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Independents' Day

Battle is lost, but GPs can still win the war

The Pulse campaign to link GPs with their MPs kicked off when Tory leader Michael Howard visited Dr Gary Calver's practice

Opposition leader Michael Howard has pledged to take up Dr Gary Calver's greatest concerns in Parliament after a visit to the GP's surgery.

Creeping fragmentation of primary care, the money consumed by NHS Direct, and the threat to small practices were all on the agenda for the hour-long visit ­ the first in a Pulse initiative launched in response to GPs' pleas for greater access to their political representatives.

Mr Howard, who met staff and patients at the practice in his Folkestone and Hythe constituency, expressed sympathy for Dr Calver's view that a raft of poorly co-ordinated Government reforms is threatening the very foundation of traditional general practice.

Mr Howard also undertook to find out exactly how much NHS Direct is costing and to come back to Dr Calver with the answer.

Dr Calver gave Mr Howard his views on walk-in centres, practice-based commissioning and proposed PCT mergers.

After the visit, the Tory leader voiced concern about the dwindling number of small practices and praised the very real benefits they offer ­ particularly the close doctor-patient relationship. 'Trusts seem to be going to great lengths to ensure single-doctor practices are not replaced by another singlehanded practice,' Mr Howard said.

Dr Calver said Mr Howard had a 'pretty good grasp' of all the national and local issues.

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