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Army of local officers to cost £17m

The cost to the NHS of unleashing a new army of so-called responsible officers to police GPs in every PCT is set run to £17m a year, Pulse can reveal.

The Government's impact assessment for the strategy sets out plans for PCT medical directors to take on a new role as the eyes and ears of the GMC, overseeing the entire GP appraisal process, writes Gareth Iacobucci.

But medical defence bodies warned the officer system will give trusts carte blanche to carry out personal vendettas against GPs.

The report says it will cost up to £1.1m per year for responsible officers to check the skills of doctors when they are first appointed. Overseeing appraisals will cost up to another £10.2m per year and investigating

doctors when appraisals indicate a potential problem would add up to another £5.4m.

The worst-case scenario would see the budget for the officers rise to £16.7m a year, even though the intention is for existing senior doctors, likely to be PCT medical directors, to take on the task.

The health and social care bill says the officers would be given powers to take ‘whatever immediate action is needed to safeguard patients and to provide a link to the GMC's national processes'.

The officers will be expected to co-operate with the GMC on ‘considering whether concerns about fitness-to-practise or conduct in particular cases should be referred to the GMC' and ‘advising the GMC on whether individual doctors met the criteria for relicensing'.

The GMC this week welcomed the introduction of responsible officers, which it said represented ‘the strengthening of local arrangements'.

The BMA said: ‘We are concerned about the role of responsible officer, which could seriously blur employment and regulation functions. We also have concerns about the notion of embedding regulatory power in an employing organisation.'

Dr Robbie Coull, a GP in Strachur, Argyll , said: ‘It needs to be impartial from a local political perspective. One of the biggest concerns is the inability of the GMC to deal with clinical incompetence.

‘The problem with having a GMC affiliate in PCTs is that, if someone is politically unpopular, then what we're seeing is people suspended on political grounds.'

Health and social care bill's key proposals

• Establishment of new regulator, the Care Quality Commission, with sweeping powers to inspect premises and regulate GPs.

• Will replace bodies including the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission and begin operating by April 2010.

• Senior doctors will be appointed as responsible officers to monitor the conduct and performance of local doctors in every PCT, to take ‘whatever immediate action is needed to safeguard patients' and ‘provide a link to the GMC's national processes'.

• Implementation of the civil standard of proof across all the health and social care regulators, which the Government describes as ‘the most appropriate for professional regulation'.

• The creation of a new independent body to take on the hearing of fitness-to-practise cases from the GMC, the Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator.

• A ‘comprehensive set of public health measures' to help prevent and control the spread of serious diseases caused by infection.

• The bill will create a one-off payment to expectant mothers ordinarily resident in the UK, to help with the costs of a healthy lifestyle, including diet, in the later stages of pregnancy. The value of the payment will be £190.

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