GPs warn on change

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The Independent Online
Plans to reform general practice could lead to more waiting lists, shorter consultation times and rationing, doctors' leaders warned yesterday.

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs' committee, said that family doctors in the National Health Service were "very concerned" about moves by a government working party to find a formula to ensure that GP resources are fairly distributed.

He claimed that if recommendations, which include using GP consultation rates to determine cash allocations, were accepted by ministers it could mean that patients were put on hospital-type waiting lists to see their family doctor. But the Department of Health said that every patient was ensured access to a GP under law and work was already under way to ensure equal access to GPs across the country.

The working party was set up by the Department of Health earlier this year to look at ways of bringing about more equal distribution of GPs, their staff and resources. Recommendations are due to be made to health ministers in about eight months.

Dr Chisholm said that general practice could not be run in the same way as hospitals and had to be based on patient need. He and his colleagues are concerned that if money is allocated according to the number of GP consultations - one of the ideas being considered by the working party - it will lead to larger GP lists, shorter consultation times and longer patient lists for GPs.

He said: "General practice is demand led. We cannot have a situation where prescription pads are locked away and surgeries have to close 10 months of the year because GPs have already run out of money that has been allocated.

"General practice is the safety valve of the NHS and once you block it, the whole service is at risk. You can close a hospital, you can delay an operation, but you can't close down general practice. GPs' surgeries are the front door of the health service, and GPs must be there to react to demand that changes throughout the year."