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GP boycott throws PCT hours audit into chaos

By Gareth Iacobucci

Government plans to force GPs to extend their hours have been thrown into disarray by the BMA-led boycott of a nationwide PCT audit of surgery opening times.

Only a third of PCTs expect to complete their probes into opening hours by the Department of Health's 3 March deadline, with many practices refusing to take part after receiving legal advice from the GPC.

A Pulse survey of PCTs found of those chasing the deadline, 30% definitely expected to hit it, compared with 35% that definitely would not. The rest were still unsure.

The results will come as a major blow to ministers, who are demanding PCTs audit current GP appointment availability to serve as the baseline for subsequent monthly monitoring of opening hours.

Six of the 26 PCTs that responded to questions from Pulse said they did not plan

to conduct audits of opening hours at all, casting doubt on the Government's insistence that the data was essential to apply the extended hours DES.

But a department spokesperson insisted that the lack of data ‘may have a knock-on effect on PCTs' ability to deliver'.

Pulse reported last week that ministers had been left fuming by what they were branding as the BMA's ‘guerrilla tactics in retreat', after the GPC issued guidance to practices saying they were under no legal obligation to take part in the audits.

Most trusts were unable to provide figures for the proportion of GPs following the GPC's advice, but of the six that could, some reported that as many as half of practices were boycotting the audit.

The department last week insisted practices were ‘contractually obliged' to provide information, but PCTs told Pulse there appeared little they could do to force GPs to co-operate.

A spokesperson for Bedfordshire PCT said there did ‘not appear to be any contractual requirement for practices to do this'.

Dr Sarah Riding, a GP in Church Stretton, Shropshire, said her practice had taken the advice of her LMC, and would not be providing information until the poll results and negotiations had ended. ‘Our LMC has contacted the practices and it's been recommended that we take no notice of the PCT. That's what we'll do.

‘Until we know what is on the table and what we've agreed to, we shouldn't be handing out information. PCTs are demanding information that may be irrelevant. It's a bit like more brow-beating for us.'

Dr Sarah Riding, refusing to provide information until the poll results and negotiations have ended. Dr Sarah Riding

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