Ministers will force family doctors to take new patients

Family doctors are to be forced to open their lists to new patients under radical reforms to allow people to shop around for the best GP practices.

Ben Bradshaw, the Health minister, accused some GPs of operating "gentlemen's agreements" to stop the poaching of patients by neighbouring GP practices. His remarks threatened to start a new war of words with GPs, who are resisting the changes set out in a blueprint for primary care.

British Medical Association leaders dismissed his remarks as "nonsense" but ministers believe they will receive public backing for the reforms.

Patients will be given a right to choose their GP practice, with more information on how to switch, including an NHS website with details of the services offered by local surgeries.

The pay of GPs will be changed to reward more prevention of ill-health, with vascular risk check-ups for all those aged between 40 and 74. Patients will be offered email and telephone consultations with their GPs.

One of the main complaints from a major survey of patients was that it was difficult to switch practices. Patients fear being struck off a GP's list if they complain. The Health minister said he will reform the way GPs are paid to give them a cash incentive to open their doors to new patients.

Under the existing system, around 4,500 GPs are paid more than £100 per head for existing patients but only £55 for new patients.

Mr Bradshaw is planning to reopen the GPs' contract to make the payments more equal so GPs can earn more by taking on new patients.

Attacking restrictive practices, he said: "There is no doubt there are some areas where gentlemen's agreements operate that mitigate against lists being open to new patients and therefore work against real patient choice."

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