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Crisis puts ballot date in jeopardy as pay row rumbles on

GP negotiators are holding crisis talks on whether to delay the contract ballot because of an 11th-hour pricing row with the Government, Pulse can

reveal, write Rob Gough and Susan McNulty.

Negotiators were wrestling with the possibility of extending the voting period beyond the official closing date of April 11 as Pulse went to press. The ballot opens on Thursday this week.

The crisis has stemmed from a continuing failure to strike a deal over pay rates for national enhanced services.

Speaking last Thursday, GP negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman said: 'We are considering putting it back. At this very moment I don't think we will but by teatime that might be very different.'

The last-minute dispute surrounds benchmark pay rates for national enhanced services. These include intra-partum care, anticoagulant monitoring, near-patient test- ing, IUCD fitting, treatment of drug and alcohol misusers, specialised sexual health care, enhanced care of the terminally ill and minor injury services.

The two sides have thrashed out an agreement that pay rates will be 'banded' to reflect the different workload involved for, say, rural and inner-city practices.

But Dr Buckman said a

final deal on the value of each service had yet to be signed off.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC joint-deputy chair, admitted: 'We may not have all the final details by the time of the ballot.' He blamed the delay on ministers' 'official process'.

But a Department of Health spokesman said: 'The BMA and the NHS Confederation only agreed the pricing bands this week. Officials here are now checking the bands and they'll be back with the BMA as soon as possible.'

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