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BMA to poll GPs on 'imposed' contract

By Steve Nowottny

The BMA is considering legal action to stop the Government imposing unilateral contract changes that could cost the average GP practice £36,000 should it refuse to offer extended opening.

All GPs in the UK will be polled within weeks on whether to accept a ‘gun-barrel' deal tabled by ministers, with the threat that a much tougher contract will be imposed if they refuse.

The deal, which was rejected by the GPC before Christmas, offers GPs a 1.5% global sum rise and a £158 million Access DES, but relocates QOF points and requires an average 6,000-patient practice to open three extra hours a week.

If GPs reject the deal, the Government has warned it will impose a draconian contract that would cut 135 QOF points, raise QOF thresholds and provide no guarantee of a pay rise. Ministers have already begun a statutory consultation with stakeholder groups to enable it to force through the changes by 1 April.

The GPC walked away from talks before Christmas, warning it ‘utterly rejected such gun-barrel negotiations'.

According to GPC estimates, a 6,000-patient practice that did not wish to offer extended opening would lose around £18,000 in resources under the Government's offer - and £36,000 if unilateral changes were imposed.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC chair, told Pulse: ‘The Government seems hell bent on tearing up a quality-based contract designed to improve the health of patients and save lives, less than four years after Gordon Brown approved it as Chancellor.'

Deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the GPC would be looking at the legal issues surrounding any imposed deal ‘very closely', although the BMA has not yet formally sought legal advice.

But Health Minister Ben Bradshaw insisted that the Department's offer to GPs was a ‘good deal'.

‘We regret the BMA has not felt able to agree to it, but we hope GPs will,' he said. ‘The BMA is an important organisation, but it is important that on this issue it does not put the interests of its members ahead of the interests of patients.'

Alastair Henderson, Deputy Director of NHS Employers, said the deal represented a final offer to GPs. ‘That's the offer we've made, we're not going to talk about other things.'

But the initial reaction to the deal among grassroots GPs was overwhelmingly hostile. A snap poll of 224 GPs, carried out by Doctors.net.uk for Pulse, found more than 90% planned to reject the Government deal.

Dr Peter Fellows, a GPC member and a GP in Lydney, Gloucestershire, called for a Special Conference of LMCs to discuss mass resignation.

‘Extended hours should only ever be voluntary. Get off our backs and stop destroying general practice,' he said.

Dr Laurence Buckman: has utterly rejected gun-barrel tactics Dr Laurence Buckman: has utterly rejected gun-barrel tactics Deal or no deal?

The offer
- An average 6,000-patient practice to offer three extended hours a week, funded by a £158 million Access DES and 58.5 reallocated QOF points, and with a guaranteed 1.5% pay rise for next year
- GPC to poll GPs on the government's proposals within weeks

The threat
- If GPs do not accept the deal, the Government will impose tougher one. This will mean 135 QOF points cut, QOF thresholds uprated and PCTs to invest access money locally, with no guaranteed pay rise
- Government has already begun statutory consultation to enable it to impose any terms on 1 April

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