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GP enhanced services cash out to tender

The Government has given primary care trusts the green light to spend GPs' enhanced services cash on

hiring commercial deputising services to help hit the 48-hour access target.

The go-ahead comes after one PCT signed a contract with Primecare to provide in-hours services for patients who could not get an appointment with their GP within 48-hours.

Trusts failing to hit the target have seized on the Luton Teaching PCT deal and said they would 'consider anything' to boost access and improve their star rating.

But GPs said it would be a 'travesty' if PCTs used enhanced services money to pay external organisations to improve access.

Dr Ivan Bennett, professional executive committee chair at zero-starred Central Manchester PCT and a GP in the city, said the trust would consider a deal with a GP co-op or deputising service if it continued to miss the target.

'We will consider anything,' he said. 'It would probably be a last resort [to go for a deputising service] as we have quite a good co-op system and would want to explore that avenue before going to somebody like Primecare.'

Dr Sue Allan, professional executive committee chair at Ealing PCT, which missed its GP access target in the star ratings, said the trust would not rule out a similar deal but would focus on advanced access and walk-in centres first.

She said: 'Most people would want to [improve access] in-house but as a PCT we would not be against it. Cost would be a worry as commercial organisations need to bring in a profit.'

GPC member Dr Roger Chapman, a GP in Leighton Buzzard, Berkshire, said spending enhanced services money on providers other than GPs would be against the spirit of the contract.

'It would be a travesty,' he said. 'The new contract must revitalise general practice but the diversion of significant amounts of money to other organisations is going to fundamentally undermine that.'

Luton Teaching PCT has said it is not using enhanced services money for the Primecare deal.

But the Department of Health said it would not intervene if other trusts chose to. A spokesman said: 'They have the discretion to commission and contract for services, including those provided by the independent sector, as they consider appropriate.'

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