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Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has admitted there is a 'tension' between the Government's patient choice agenda and continuity of care.

But in answers to questions from doctors at the BMA's annual representatives meeting, Ms Hewitt said she would not shy away from addressing tough issues.

Dr Andrew Green, a GP in Hedon, East Yorkshire, demanded an assurance that GP registered lists would be preserved. Ms Hewitt ­ who described her visit to the meeting, the first by a Health Secretary, as stepping into the 'lion's den' ­ said the public wanted more choice and flexibility about which GPs they could see.

She added that patients could in future see a doctor nearer to their workplace and visit their own GP to address more serious concerns.

'Most patients could tell the difference between a relatively minor condition and something rather more worrying or long-term where you would want to see your GP,' Ms Hewitt claimed.

The comment provoked outrage from doctors, with the audience calling out that some serious diseases started out with minor symptoms.

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