Managers in family doctor practices rise by 41%: Labour attacks 'burgeoning grey suits'

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The Independent Online
THE NUMBER of managers and administrators in family doctor practices has risen by 41 per cent since the introduction of government health service changes, according to official figures.

The number of practice managers and administrators has increased by nearly 2,000, from 4,595 in October 1990 to 6,495 in October last year, Department of Health data lodged in the House of Commons library shows.

In contrast, the number of GPs has risen by only 2.5 per cent, from 25,622 to 26,289, while secretaries and receptionists increased by 5 per cent. The figures were released in reply to a Commons question by Dawn Primarolo, Labour's health spokeswoman. Figures up to April 1994, the third anniversary of the implementation of the internal market, are not yet available.

The increase in 'grey suits' in primary care is part of a much wider explosion in management staff numbers.

Department of Health figures for managers in trust hospitals and elsewhere in the health service for the same period show a rise of 12,000, plus an additional 18,000 administrative and clerical staff. The lion's share of the increase is attributable to increased paperwork generated by contracting.

'Whitehall' Department of Health staff rose from 3,871 in 1988-89 to 4,829 in 1992-93, a 25 per cent increase.

The overall increase in management and administrative staff will only be modestly dented by the planned shedding of 2,000 or so jobs, confirmed by the Department of Health last week, with the abolition of regional health authorities and other streamlining measures.

Ms Primarolo said: 'The figures are further evidence that Virginia Bottomley (Secretary of State for Health) has her priorities all wrong.

'She has made great claims about reducing the men in grey suits at regional health authorities but it is within the trusts, within Whitehall and within primary care that they are burgeoning.

'To reduce waiting lists and improve the NHS it is necessary to have more doctors, not more bureaucrats, just as we need more hospital consultants, not management consultants.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'We would expect the numbers to go up because of GP fundholding. Since 1990 we have had an entirely new development. Clearly some kind of manpower increase is required for this purpose. This is a relatively small area, but key staff are required to bring in GP fundholding.'

The Government is embarrassed by the soaring bureaucracy, but insists the changes have produced a more efficient NHS.

Mrs Bottomley said yesterday that the merger and streamlining of the Northern and Yorkshire Regional Health Authorities into one NHS Executive regional office would save pounds 4.7m in administrative costs that would be 'ploughed back into direct patient care.'