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Brown puts GPs in firing line on access

GP leaders criticise PM-in-waiting's decision to make access a key plank of leadership bid

Gordon Brown has placed GPs firmly in the firing line over access out of core hours, while privately admitting he does not intend to tear up the GP contract.

The Prime Minister-in-waiting provoked consternation and confusion this week after making a pledge to improve access to GPs a central plank of his Labour leadership bid.

His plans drew strong criticism from GP leaders amid uncertainty over whether he wanted to extend opening hours or go as far as challenging the out-of-hours opt-out.

But a source on Mr Brown's campaign team struck a reassuring tone, telling Pulse the policy was 'aspirational' and not about renegotiating the contract.

Mr Brown is more likely to raid MPIG cash to incentivise flexible opening hours, as proposed by health minister Andy Burnham, a key member of the Brown campaign team, in a Pulse interview last month.

Mr Burnham is tipped for promotion to health secretary in a Brown Government.

The Government's intensifying focus on access to GPs was further signalled this week with a Department of Health report claiming widespread frustration among patients.

A week after the 400,000-patient CFEP UK survey found patient satisfaction with access was rising, the report – based on focus groups with 84 people who took part in the Our Health, Our Care, Our Say white paper consultation – found many were highly critical of GPs.

Mr Brown reinforced the point in his campaign launch, declaring: 'If I can show how at weekends and outside the normal hours people can have more access to the health services they need, millions using NHS Direct, millions using walk-in centres, more access to GPs, then I believe that is what politics is actually about.'

Mr Brown's plans to make walk-in centres and NHS Direct a key part of his policy came a week after a University of Sheffield report concluded neither initiative had produced 'expected reductions' in the use of traditional services.

GP leaders have warned the Chancellor's proposals 'do not add up' and have not been properly thought through. They questioned whether it would be possible to introduce routine extended hours to surgeries without ripping up the GMS contract, which the GPC pledged to resist.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said: 'Gordon Brown is falling into the same trap as his predecessor – consulting too much on access for those who are normally well.'

GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'If they are talking about a routine service, you'll want some of your 6% of global sum back. The whole thing doesn't add up.'

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