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Buckman takes GPC chair

New GPC chair faces a series of major challenges and calls for a more robust approach to negotiation But will Buckman's bite match his bark?

New GPC chair faces a series of major challenges and calls for a more robust approach to negotiation But will Buckman's bite match his bark?

It is a week after Dr Laurence Buckman's election as GPC chair and the Confederation of British Industry has just urged Prime Minister Gordon Brown to force GPs to work longer hours, claiming they are costing the country's employers millions in lost profits.

Dr Buckman's response is scathing and typical of what many people are expecting from the new figure at the helm of the negotiating body.‘Are we going to have schools open at nights and weekends so that people don't have to take time off work to attend their children's open day?' barks the man many regard as one of the attack dogs of the GP profession.

‘It's another piece of non-analysis by people who know nothing about general practice. We're eagerly looking forward to talking to them and discussing how we can help their report make more sense.'Despite, as former deputy chair, being an integral part of the GPC, Dr Buckman promises a more robust body after winning the battle to replace Dr Hamish Meldrum, following the latter's rise to BMA chair.

The Barnet GP beat five rivals, including several fellow GPC negotiators, after promising to ‘give back hope' to GPs disillusioned at issues such as the pay freeze, pension capping and the Government's relentless spinning against GPs.

Blunter and more confrontational by far than his predecessor, Dr Buckman's style appeals to the many GPs who claim the GPC has rolled over to the Department of Health.

But being a no-nonsense talker will not be enough in itself. Despite calls from GPs for a more hard-line approach, he says anyone expecting him to go to war with the Government is wrong.

Table-thumping

‘I'm a plainer speaker maybe, although I don't think Hamish was particularly elliptical. But I don't think ministers are impressed by someone who just yells and thumps the table. I know a lot of GPs believe that's what negotiation is all about. But it absolutely isn't. Negotiation is getting all sides to feel they've got something out of it.'

Now, despite saying health secretary Alan Johnson is someone GPs can do business with, Dr Buckman is faced with what seems to be more propaganda, after the Government's patient survey was released last week.

The survey showed hugely favourable views on GP access in most areas, but Mr Johnson wasted little time in revealing plans to set up PCT hit squads in underperforming areas and to further push access through the quality and outcomes framework – bringing the threat of yet another major upheaval for GPs.

‘Just 7% of patients were not happy with access,' says Dr Buckman. ‘Yet the Government was bound to focus on that 7%.'

GP opening hours is just one of many huge issues facing the GPC, not least of which is obtaining a pay rise for a profession that has grown increasingly impatient with its leadership.

The standing ovation given to Dr Meldrum at the LMCs conference this year is not likely to be accorded to his successor if he fails to win a pay rise next time.

There has been tough talk from the GPC, such as industrial action being on the cards if the pay freeze continues, but some doubt it will translate into action.

Dr Alan Keith, a GP from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, speaks for many at grassroots level who fear the GPC will once again be outgunned.

‘I'm afraid the GPC represents the Government to the profession instead of representing the profession to the Government,' he says.

‘I'd like to believe things will change under Dr Buckman, but I'm not holding my breath.'

But others have more faith in the new leader.

Dr Brian Balmer, a GPC member and GP from Chelmsford, Essex, says:

‘Laurence is the new broom. We are up against a Department of Health that is determined to get its own back by hammering us for what it sees as the too-generous GP contract. And Laurence will rise to the challenge, I've no doubt at all.'

Dr John Grenville, another GPC member and a GP in Derbyshire, adds: ‘I have never subscribed to the view the GPC has ever rolled over and had its tummy tickled at any stage.

I believe the GPC has performed extremely well.'

Dr Buckman says: ‘My job is to give GPs the hope that they can resist where they need to resist. Ultimately, people judge you on your results and not on what you say you'll do.'

As always, actions speak louder than words. The next few months are guaranteed to see plenty of both.

New chair Dr Laurence Buckman promises a more robust GPC New GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman Dr Buckman's CV Dr Buckman's CV

- Singlehanded practitioner working in north London, in a corporate group of 7 doctors
- Before joining the GPC in 1991, cut his teetch as a member of the Herts and Barnet LMCs and at the GMC conference
- Became a GPC negotiator 10 years ago and has been deputy chair for the past three years

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