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The waiting game

Government attacks GPC 'guerrilla' tactics on hours

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Department of Health has rejected GPC claims that practices are under no legal obligation to take part in PCT audits of opening hours – with insiders accusing the committee of operating ‘guerrilla tactics in retreat'.

Pulse understands that ministers are furious at the GPC's guidance to GPs, and determined to inflict further damage on GP leaders following their humiliating retreat over the Government's contract deal.

The department has now sought its own legal advice, and insists practices are ‘contractually' obliged' to provide information.

The GPC this month wrote to all GPs urging them to boycott the audit of opening hours ordered by the Government, after its legal advisors said practices were under no obligation to take part.

PCTs in some areas have already written to GPs asking them to complete the audit, with more expected to follow suit over the next few weeks.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘It is reasonable for a PCT (investing around £1m per practice on average) to expect practices to provide information about when their patients can access services. Indeed, practices are contractually obliged to do so.

‘PCTs also need this information to work with practices to plan for the introduction of extended opening for patients. We hope that practices see the reasonableness of this request.'

But despite the Government's position, LMCs are backing the BMAs stance, and have written to practices saying they did not have to provide the information unless they wish to.

Dr Brian Balmer, chief-executive of Essex LMCs, confirmed that some PCTs in his area had already sent the letters to practices. He said: ‘Our advice is, at the moment, we don't think this is reasonable under the contract and they should think carefully about doing it. It does nothing whatsoever for patient care.'

‘I can't believe anyone's crazy enough to try and do this. It's quite bizarre, and it's the least efficient use of PCT management I've seen in a very long time.'

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