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Deadlock ends on DES for Choose and Book

By Steve Nowottny

The Government is to keep paying practices to use Choose and Book in a bid to stop GPs dropping the unpopular electronic referral system.

NHS Employers last week announced that both the choice and booking and access directed enhanced services would be rolled over for 2007/8, after weeks of deadlock with the GPC.

The funding, which applies only to England, will run retrospectively from April 2007 to March 2008, with payments and achievement targets rolled over from last year.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chair of the GPC, welcomed the decision, which he said would remove uncertainty.

'I think whatever we may feel about the merits of the access survey and Choose and Book, at least this does clarify the position for PCTs and practices,' he said.

However, he added that many GPs had concerns over both the Government's controversial plans to improve access to surgeries and Choose and Book, and warned the fin-ancial incentive might not be enough to persuade them otherwise.

Currently just 38% of GP referrals are made using Choose and Book, with the Government falling far short of its March 2007 target of 90% of referrals being made through the system.

An unpublished BMA survey of 279 GPs carried out at the end of last year found 57% described their experience of Choose and Book as 'negative' or 'very negative'.

And 71% said that they would not recommend it to a colleague.Dr Barbara Hakin, chair of NHS Employers' GMS negotiating team, said the DES would enable GPs to 'deliver national priorities'.

She added: 'Extending them for a further year will enable practices to continue their work on improving their patients' access to services and offering them choice in their consultant outpatient appointments.'

Both the GPC and NHS Employers refused to comment on what had caused the deadlock.

'Now that we've got an agreement we're keen to focus on that rather than looking back,' a spokesperson for NHS Employers said.

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