GPs to provide accident and emergency care

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GENERAL practitioners in a midlands town are to become responsible for providing all health services for 40,000 people under an experimental scheme that is the first of its kind in Britain.

Four doctors' surgeries at Bromsgrove, Hereford and Worcester, are to be given pounds 13m a year for the next two years to see if they can fund and organise every type of medical care more efficiently than the area health authority.

In addition to their own primary health care, they will also become responsible for funding general surgery, hospital emergencies and post-accident care for the patients on their registers.

The pilot scheme, which is to start in April, is attracting widespread interest throughout the health service and will be closely monitored by experts for the regional health authority which is paying the administrative costs.

The GPs are being given funds which the North Worcestershire Health Authority would normally spend on patients and this will allow them to prove that they can use the budget to better effect.

The theory is that because the doctors can more fully understand the medical and social needs of their patients, they may be able to reduce waste and treat more people for the same amount of money.

Although the GPs will not have to treat all the patients themselves and can purchase expertise from elsewhere, it is thought they will make increasing use of the facilities at the local hospital.

It is unlikely that family doctors will often turn out for emergencies, such as road accidents, but will pay for treatment by ambulance staff and subsequently in hospital accident departments.

Malcolm Cooper, chairman of the North Worcestershire health authority, said yesterday: 'There is a great deal of genuine interest in this pilot scheme and we are very excited that our area has been chosen.

'I have met the senior partners of the practices taking part in this and they are all very enthusiastic and optimistic that they can make it work. It is a very sensible and sensitive approach to local health care.'

The authority's chief executive, Jim Bartlett, said that the scheme was a momentous one for the health authority which would be handing over nearly 14 per cent of its budget to the GPs.

He added: 'We believe, however, that health care should be locally focused and that the doctors are well placed to transfer their patients' needs into effective health-care provision. This could well be the way forward in the future.'

Richard Wilkinson, one of the GPs involved in the project, said: 'We believe we can, over a period of time, get better services for the people of Bromsgrove. The experiment is based on the view that GPs can be more sensitive to the needs of their patients and we believe we can demonstrate this.'