BMA CONFERENCE: Dorrell challenged to solve GP dispute

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Medical Editor

Britain's doctors threw down a challenge to Stephen Dorrell yesterday in his first morning as Secretary of State for Health with unanimous support for their GP colleagues in their battle with the Government over out-of- hours working.

GPs have already decided to ballot on industrial action if talks fail, but any hope the Government may have had that the profession would be divided over taking sanctions, faded yesterday at the British Medical Association annual meeting in Harrogate.

The conference, representing all parts of the medical profession, gave GPs their unanimous support and, Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the BMA GP committee, a standing ovation.

Last month, GPs decided by 83 per cent to reject the Government's latest offer on out-of-hours working after two years of negotiation. They want their contract split and priced into "in- hours" and out-of-hours work, and a campaign to remind patients that night and weekend calls are for emergencies only.

Dr Bogle told the conference: "GPs are disillusioned by ministers who talk up general practice when promoting their primary care-led NHS, then treating us with disdain for the whole of the rest of the time.

"The Government's offer does not solve the out-of-hours problem; it doesn't recognise either rising demand or workload or the fact that more and more of our colleagues do not want either to organise or to provide the out- of-hours service ..."

"There is a very real possibility of us balloting the profession and I have asked to meet the Secretary of State to impress on him the gravity of the situation. "Let's hope that yesterday's announcement has made a difference. Mr Dorrell, you have an opportunity to review the Government's position. Together we can resolve this dispute and I will meet you anywhere, any time, in order to do so as soon as possible."

In a separate debate, Dr Stuart Horner, chairman of the BMA ethics committee, called on GPs to refuse to link their surgery computers to an NHS-wide computer network now being set up. Fears are growing that patient information will become accessible and the BMA is seeking safeguards.

The association is pressing the Government to introduce legislation to prohibit any NHS worker from divulging sensitive information to third parties.

"I am convinced in five years personal medical information will be available on the internet. The media will have the medical history and eventually the genetic profile of every MP," Dr Horner said.