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BMA backing expert patient programme

The BMA has thrown its weight behind the Government's expert patients programme despite scepticism from GPs about its merit, writes Emily Wright.

A report from the BMA's patient liaison group concluded the programme could cut demand for GP services and help patients manage chronic illness.

But the BMA said the programme, which trains patients to help themselves and others manage long-term conditions, had to undergo an overhaul to become a success.

Chief among its recommendations was that expert patients programmes needed to be made more universally accessible to avoid damaging health inequalities.

A Government evaluation of the programme, published in October, found courses were dominated by white middle-class women and failed to reach those who might benefit most.

The BMA report also said GPs needed to be more engaged as they would be key in promoting it to patients.

Harry Cayton, the Government's patient tsar and chair of the expert patients programme, agreed the scheme needed work. He said 'There are very proper issues to be discussed and we take a self-critical view of the programme. We would never see it as perfect.'

Further research will be presented to GPs to coax them into supporting the scheme, he said.

Professor Anne Rogers, professor of sociology in health care at the National Primary Care Research and Development Centre and author of the initial evaluation of the programme, said GPs were key to getting people involved.

She said: 'In terms of engaging marginal groups too, GPs would help because they have contact with everyone. Everyone goes to see the doctor.'

But GPs remained uncertain about the programme.

Dr Charlie Daniels, a GP in Torquay, said: 'I don't need to see figures telling me it can be effective. I know that already. But actually getting involved is a different thing.'

Dr Nigel Watson, a GP in New Milton and chair of Wessex

LMCs, said he would have to see impressive figures before he embraced the programme. 'At the end of the day, it's going to generate more work,' he said.

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