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Government delays mean scramble to hit out-of-hours date

GPs are predicting 'a scramble' to meet the December 31 out-of-hours opt-out deadline because of Government delays in allocating £28 million to help rural and inner-city areas.

GP co-operatives that are looking to take on primary care organisation contracts have warned the hold-up in distributing the money – announced last October – will lead to mounting problems during the year.

Dr Mark Reynolds, chair of the National Association of GP Co-operatives, said trusts were having to agree to fund services with no guarantee how much they would get back from the Government. He said: 'Time is short and the money needs to be out there.'

Dr Fay Wilson, medical director of Birmingham and District GP Emergency Rooms (BADGER), accused health minister John Hutton of making 'empty pledges'.

She said: 'Mr Hutton keeps coming to conferences and making announcements and then when anyone tries to follow them up it disappears. It's all very well for ministers to go round courting popularity but we need some follow through.'

Dr Wilson added: 'The lack of money will reflect itself in a scramble to get things running. It's unfortunate that we are storing up problems for the winter.'

Dr Mike Richards, medical director of Devon Doctors on Call and a GP in Newton Abbot, said trusts in the area were having to develop a new service without knowing what funding they have.

'We have heard nothing of it and until it arrives we can't spend it,' he said. 'The PCTs obviously just have to say that money may come and may reduce their costs.'

A Department of Health spokesman told Pulse that strategic health authorities had been told how much of the £28 million they are getting. But he conceded PCTs would only know their allocation when the health authority appointed a lead trust.

North Yorkshire Emergency Doctors said rural areas were desperately in need of the extra cash to allay PCT fears on the cost of out-of-hours.

Dr Jamie MacLeod, chair of NYED, said the co-op would have to cover 900,000 patients in 8,000 square miles. He said: 'This is money that will be very much needed.'

By Nerys Hairon

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