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Brown’s bullying tactics

Ever since Gordon Brown’s first few days as Prime Minister, his policy on health has been driven by a single obsession – the certainty that GPs’ failure to offer evening and weekend surgeries was at the heart of disillusionment with the NHS.

Ever since Gordon Brown's first few days as Prime Minister, his policy on health has been driven by a single obsession – the certainty that GPs' failure to offer evening and weekend surgeries was at the heart of disillusionment with the NHS.



This conviction has not wavered, whatever the evidence proffered to the contrary, and was firm enough for ministers to summarily disregard the results of their own £11m patient satisfaction survey – which of course found the public was rather happy with access to GPs.

It was against this fevered backdrop that the GPC entered contract negotiations last autumn, and negotiators faced a stark choice. Should they work with the Government, accepting the push for extended hours now had an unstoppable momentum, or should they stand firm and offer only a firm shake of the head to the proposals?

Cavalier and dishonourable

In the event, the GPC opted for the former, accepting practices would have to extend their hours, and indeed offering an extra two hours

a week for no real-terms increase in funding. Given negotiators' own alarming estimates for the likely costs of opening longer, that was a surprising decision, but in such a febrile atmosphere perhaps also a wise one.

What negotiators could not have anticipated was the way in which the Government would choose to throw the GPC's offer back in its face, threatening instead to impose draconian pay cuts unless GPs bow to its demands.

Gordon Brown has set his sights on at least three extra hours a week – a minimum to meet his pledge of 8am-8pm opening – and he seems happy to sacrifice his working relationship with GPs in the process.

The Government's concerted campaign of spin against GPs now feels like a long game, designed to undermine the public's trust to such an extent that ministers can get away with this cavalier and dishonourable approach to negotiations.

But for all the negative headlines, the public does still trust GPs, and it is time the GPC made that goodwill count. The fightback starts here.

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