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 A/V REPORTS
The BBC's Navdip Dhariwal
"They have seen their workload increase and do not have adequate resources to cope"
 real 56k

Prime Minister Tony Blair
"They [GPs] play an absolutely vital part in the local community"
 real 56k

Conservative leader William Hague
describes the survey as a 'serious indictment' of the Labour government's record on the NHS
 real 56k

Lib Dem health spokesman Nick Harvey
"GPs have had a very tough decade"
 real 28k

Friday, 1 June, 2001, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
GPs ready to quit NHS
gp
Many GPs are unhappy about their workload
More than half of family doctors would be prepared to resign from the NHS if contract negotiations are not satisfactorily concluded by next April.

Many GPs say they are unhappy that their workloads have increased and that they are subject to more regulations, while their pay has not reflected the changes.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn has responded by offering doctors' leaders a timetable for talks on a new contract.

The British Medical Association balloted all 36,000 family doctors in the UK on whether they would support taking radical action if negotiations dragged on too long and failed to address their concerns.

Two-thirds of GPs responded to the ballot, of which 86% said they would be prepared to resign from the NHS.


The result demonstrates the depth of disenchantment, despair and disillusion felt by GPs throughout the UK

Dr Hamish Meldrum
That means that overall 56% of family doctors are prepared to quit the NHS.

The impact on patients of mass GP resignation is unclear, but at the very least it would lead to administrative chaos within the NHS.

Clear message

Dr Hamish Meldrum, deputy chairman of the BMA's GPs' Committee, said: "The message this ballot sends could not be clearer or louder.

"The result demonstrates the depth of disenchantment, despair and disillusion felt by GPs throughout the UK.

"Regrettably, they dramatically confirm what we have been telling governments for years, that general practice is at the end of its tether."

In the NHS Plan published last year, the government said it was committed to modernising the terms of GPs' employment contracts.

Dr Hamish Meldrum
Dr Hamish Meldrum warned morale was low among GPs
But the British Medical Association has accused the government of "dragging their heels" over contract reforms.

Doctors were asked if they would be prepared to give the association an undated letter of resignation from the NHS in a year's time.

Bureaucracy

The BMA says any new contracts should reduce the amount of bureaucracy and administration GPs are forced to do.

Family doctors also want less "open ended" commitments, a tighter definition of the role of the family doctor, and for pay not to be closely linked to size of their patient lists.

The average GP now conducts more than 10,000 consultations a year and spends just eight minutes with each patient.

The ballot does not commit doctors to leave the health service or stop them treating NHS patients.

But the timing of the results is designed to increase pressure at a politically sensitive time.

Warning shot

Shadow Health Secretary Liam Fox said that the GPs' vote had sent "a very strong warning shot across the government's bows."

He said: "Family doctors are amongst the least militant people in this country. They fully understood what they were doing, which was to send a very strong message to the government."

Mr Milburn said the ballot made Labour's case for more doctors and nurses in the NHS even stronger. The manifesto promises an extra 10,000 doctors by 2005, although the majority of these will be hospital consultants.

He told a news conference: "We are prepared to agree a timetable for negotiations but I won't pretend any of this is going to be easy.

"Change is a difficult process to go through.

"But given the fact that the BMA, GPs themselves, the NHS Confederation representing NHS employers, and the Government all want to have a new contract of employment, I am 100% confident that we will get one."

Stephen Thornton
Stephen Thornton accused the BMA of "posturing"

Nick Harvey, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "GPs continue to shoulder the burden not only of an increasing workload in surgeries but also supporting patients as hospital waiting lists grow.

"It is also clear that the UK has only half the number of doctors of our European neighbours. GPs are overstretched and under pressure."

Distraction

The NHS Confederation, which represents health authorities and trusts, dismissed the ballot as a "distraction".

Chief executive Stephen Thornton said: "There's no doubt that primary care is under significant pressure and that there is a pressing need for more GPs; but this still leaves us wondering exactly what was to be achieved by such a ballot.

"The time for posturing is over. The BMA and the government should get around the negotiating table as soon as possible after the election."

In Scotland 69% responded, of whom 84% said they would consider quitting.

In England the response rate was 65%, with 86% voting yes. In Wales the response rate was 63%, with 87% saying they would be prepared to resign from the health service.

In Northern Ireland, 67% of family doctors responded - with a massive 90% indicating that they would resign if new contracts had not been agreed by April 2002.

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