GPs pledge to fight for budget powers

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The Independent Online
GP fundholding was thrown into the centre of the election battle last night after doctors said they would be campaigning to stop Labour abolishing their right to run budgets for their own practices.

Dr Rhidian Morris, chairman of the National Association of Fundholding Practices, said the organisation would be writing to all candidates in the forthcoming election to seek support for fundholding.

Dr Morris stressed that the organisation would not be campaigning in support of the Tory party or the Liberal Democrats, who support fundholding. But he made it clear that the association would be fighting any attempt by a Labour government to carry out the threat to replace fundholding with joint commissioning of services by GPs.

He said: "We understand what the Labour Party wants. It wants equity but we want equity too. We don't want people using commercial muscle to get preferential treatment. I don't allow that in my health authority area. We have a lot of sympathy with that view.

"But we don't think joint commissioning is very workable," said Dr Morris. "We are apolitical. We are not going to say vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat because they support us. But we will be looking to raise public awareness of the benefits of fundholding."

The NAFP council agreed to fight Labour's plan to introduce joint commissioning, which would involve family doctors in an area agreeing terms together for the purchase of care on behalf of NHS patients from NHS trust hospitals.

The NAFP executive will be meeting next week to decide how to carry out the campaign, but Dr Morris said they would be writing to all candidates in the election putting their views forward. They have no plans to run their own candidates.

The NAFP statement said it would be "seeking the support of those with influence in the NHS and if fundholding is threatened after the election, we will continue to campaign to ensure that fundholding survives any parliamentary attempt to abolish it".

Their stand was welcomed by Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, who attacked Labour's alternative plans as "vague". Mr Dorrell said: "I am pleased though not surprised that the NAFP has agreed unanimously to launch ... a campaign to make clear the benefits of fundholding."

Fundholders had always made it clear that a practice-based budget was their bottom line because it enabled them to meet patients' needs, Mr Dorrell added.

Labour last night shrugged off the campaign, insisting the NAFP was a "small but vocal minority". A party spokesman said: "Our plans for GP commissioning have met with widespread approval across the country from fundholders and non-fundholders. We look forward to a continuing dialogue with the NAFP on our plans."

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