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Blair stands defiant over 48-hr access

Prime Minister Tony Blair has sent the strongest signal yet that he will not allow 48-hour access to be dropped from the GP contract.

Mr Blair found time between top-level meetings on Northern Ireland and terror in the Middle East last week to deliver his message at a conference of pro-modernising GPs.

The audience ­ made up of GPs who achieved 48-hour access through the controversial advanced access system ­ were told their work would 'usher in a new era of general

practice'.

Mr Blair said: 'We must change working practices. There are changes in the work GPs do that could allow us to make better use of the resources we have in a flexible way.'

Mr Blair acknowledged the disruption GPs faced but insisted: 'Change is necessary. I apologise for that and at the same time I don't.'

His surprise appearance at the National Primary Care Development Team event was clearly timed to stamp his authority on the delicate closing stages of the GP contract negotiations.

The GPC is currently fighting an uphill battle to have 48-hour access uncoupled from pay in the new contract but ministers are standing firm.

A ministerial source said Mr Blair 'had sought to underline the message that GPs must expect changes to their working practices in exchange for additional pay'.

GPC members attacked the Prime Minister for delivering his message to a 'sympathetic' audience.

GPC member Dr Julian Neal said: 'It's a great pity a minister was not at the LMC meeting to hear the determination of negotiators to achieve a successful outcome, and to hear the anger towards the Government on the delay.'

Mr Blair's appearance also reignited the row over the

future of singlehanded practice.

Department of Health GP adviser Dr Ian Rutter told conference delegates that 'the times of singlehanded practices are over'.

Dr Rutter, chief executive of Bradford North PCT, said GPs had to work in a 'learning collaborative culture' which was 'more difficult' for singlehanders.

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