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BMA warns screening will cause appointment chaos

GPs face an extra 40 appointments a week at least under the Government's screening plans, the BMA has warned.

Reacting to health secretary Alan Johnson's announcement that everyone between the ages of 40 and 74 will be entitled to vascular screening, GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman, said the massive task of screening well patients would make it more difficult for the sick to get an appointment.

He also questioned the lack of scientific evidence to support the plans.

Dr Buckman said: ‘While we would like to welcome this, as prevention is undoubtedly better than cure, we have serious concerns about the pressure this will put on an already overstretched general practice.

‘Over a third of the population fall into this age range which for an average practice means two thousand patients. It could work out at 40 extra appointments a week – and that's if they only need one appointment. If the process means they need two or three appointments, to ultimately be told they are fit and healthy, then you're looking at doubling or tripling that number. Whether it is nurses, GPs, healthcare assistants or pharmacists who do these checks, there is not currently the workforce, the time in the day, or even the space in our surgeries to carry out this number of consultations. At the moment all our appointments are booked up with patients who are in immediate need of medical care.

Dr Buckman also questioned the lack of scientific evidence behind the government screening plans, adding: 'To justify healthcare spending on this scale there would need to be very clear evidence that this is both cost and clinically effective. There have been no pilot schemes and the models the Government is using are theoretical. Inevitably large sale screening will impact on access to services for sick patients.'

However, announcing the plans this morning, Mr Johnson said evidence from a model of the screening programme showed it would not place huge pressure on practices.

He described the BMA's reaction as ‘hyperbole' , adding: 'A total of 3 million patients will be screened a year, working out at about 7 checks a week per practice. If everything pans out then everyone is going to be in favour of this and once we start discussions with stakeholders, including the BMA, they will realise this makes sense.'

RCGP chair, Professor Steve Field, said: 'The RCGP supports the Government's move to help prevent vascular diseases. We are pleased that the emphasis is moving towards preventative measures - rather than just patching people up when they are ill.

'It is important that patients have as much information as possible so that they can make choices about how they can improve their health and live longer and healthier lives. GPs are already demonstrating that they are up for this challenge in their day to day work in their surgeries.

'We are pleased that additional funds are being made to extend prevention to people who would not normally come into contact with health services. We hope that the Government will keep its nerve and continue with the funding even though the benefits might not be seen for some years.'

Dr Laurence Buckman: GPs facing extra 40 appointments a week at least Dr Laurence Buckman: GPs facing extra 40 appointments a week at least

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