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BMA tells GPs to boycott hours audit

By Steve Nowottny

The BMA has urged GPs to boycott an audit of practice opening hours ordered by the Government.

As exclusively revealed by Pulse last week, the Department of Health has ordered all PCTs to begin monitoring opening hours on a monthly basis ‘to ensure extended hours are genuinely additional'.

PCTs in some areas have already written to GPs asking them to complete the audit.

But BMA lawyers this week said that although there was ‘no clear precedent', practices were under no obligation to take part and could argue PCTs were not entitled to demand information on opening hours.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC chair, said: ‘GPs should not for the moment answer questions from their PCTs about their hours. Our legal advice – and we've been very careful to obtain detailed advice from counsel – is that the request for this information is not something GPs should have to do.'

The Department for Health is seeking its own legal advice, but a spokesperson said practices who failed to respond risked delaying payments from the Extended Access DES.

‘PCTs will need this information from the audit to determine whether hours are really extended and that there has been no substitution of evening for daytime surgeries,' she said. ‘Not having this information when or if the DES comes into force could delay payments.'

Meanwhile, Pulse has learned that some GPs are discussing the possibility of exploiting a potential loophole in the department's plans by closing during the day before the audit takes place. Reinstatement of the lost hours after the DES comes into effect might then count towards the extended hours target.

Under the GP contract, practices are responsible for patient care from 8am to 6.30pm, but are permitted to set their own opening hours.

One GP who didn't want to be named said the idea was proposed at an LMC meeting last week. ‘It was suggested that in anticipation of the audit, we should cut in-hours services now – to provide the cushion that could be used subsequently for extended hours,' he said.

Richard Armstrong, head of primary medical care at the Department of Health, warned: ‘They need to check their own contract terms before they say that. I would hate to think they were going to be in breach of their own contractual arrangements for short-term gain.'

How to refuse your PCT opening hours audit - the BMA advice

‘We have considered your request for information in relation to our obligations of disclosure under our current contract. We do not feel the PCT is entitled to demand this information from us at this stage. First, the DES has not yet been agreed and we understand the implementation of it is still subject to legal consultation. Second, as we have not indicated that we are minded to take up any DES if one were introduced, we do not consider that your request is reasonable. On that basis, and in exercise of our rights under our contract, we must decline to produce the information.'

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