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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Blair wages war on closed lists

A 'planning and building blight' caused by chronic Government underinvestment is leaving thousands of GPs trapped in crumbling premises.

Official figures released this week reveal a 44 per cent drop in Department of Health-controlled discretionary funding and a 7 per cent overall fall in cash for premises since Labour came to power in 1997.

The GPC accused the Government of 'undermining a renaissance in general practice' and 'blackmailing' GPs.

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said some of the fall would have been caused by a drop in interest rates, but even accounting for this ministers had failed to invest in GP premises.

He said the Government had taken money from 'the soft underbelly' of premises funding to finance improved services and pay.

'It's a very sophisticated form of emotional blackmail,' he said. 'Anyone apart from a saint would prefer a pay rise to having the money invested in premises for them. It's an issue that's extremely high on our agenda for 2006/9.'

GPs said the Government had consistently cut back support for cost-rent schemes and was forcing practices to chase private funding or use NHS Lift.

The figures showed funding for cost-rent schemes more than halved from £96.3 million in 1997/8 to £43.2 million in 2003/4. This was not matched by the increase in notional rent spending.

GPC premises sub-committee chair Dr Peter Swinyard said what little money there was for GP premises was only for capital projects and came with strict criteria attached. He said: 'What is needed is revenue guarantees ­ the private sector are keen to get involved, but need guarantees.'

Dr Grant Kelly, a GP in Chichester, added: 'The Government are fervently hoping they will solve the issue without having to pay the rent.

'Until they have an outbreak of common-sense we'll be stuck. They are hoping to privatise it quickly enough to get them off the hook.'

Recent figures showed the Government was behind its NHS Plan target to refurbish or replace 3,000 premises by the end of 2004.

By Rob Finch

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