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At the heart of general practice since 1960

GP leaders climb down in contract dispute

By Steve Nowottny

BMA leaders have backed down in their contract dispute with the Government over extended opening hours.

After a day of fierce debate, the GPC ‘overwhelmingly' passed a resolution stating that the Government's contract offer was ‘less damaging for general practice' than the alternative imposition the Government has threatened.

The BMA will continue to poll all UK GPs later this month on the offer, but the resolution – a major climbdown from the BMA's previous stance – makes a ‘Yes' vote increasingly likely.

GPC negotiators said the resolution came after limited concessions from NHS Employers over the 'flexibility' of extended opening hours. One key objection to the Government's deal had been the inability of practices to decide when to offer extra hours, although the extent of the concessions was not immediately clear. It is understood no concessions were made over the length of extended opening or the funding provided.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC chair, said: ‘The Government has moved sufficiently for us to say one option will do you less damage than the other option. It's not a ringing endorsement.'

‘They have started to understand why we are bothered about their original proposals and have tried to make it easier for practices to do it. We're not there yet but it's easier, and it's easier enough for GPC to be able to pass an opinion on the two options before it.'

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, said the BMA still had major concerns over the Extended Access DES.

‘We are deeply concerned that the DES, even as it is at the moment, will not deliver the sort of quality of practice that our patients deserve and expect,' he said. ‘It won't be a safe service because GPs are still expected to work on their own late at night, it won't be a safe service because GPs may have to work extremely long hours and patients who are seen late at night by a tired doctor won't necessarily receive the sort of service that they would expect.'

Negotiators described the resolution as ‘analysis' rather than advice on how to vote, insisting that the GPC position ‘has not changed'. But it represents a significant change in tone on the part of the GPC, which last month warned GPs that if they were to accept the Government's offer, this year's imposition threat could be next year's offer.

Dr Laurence Buckman: Government has moved sufficiently Dr Laurence Buckman: Government has moved sufficiently The GPC resolution

'That the GPC has come to the conclusion that Option A is less damaging for general practice, because the alternative option will harm the underlying fabric of NHS general practice and patient care more quickly and more lastingly.'

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