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Gold, incentives and meh

GP time pressures threaten expert patients programme

The Government's expert patient scheme will flounder unless funding is provided to relieve the time pressures on GPs, researchers conclude.

GPs lack the time to listen to the views of patient advocates and cash is urgently needed for recruitment and training, according to a study in this month's Social Science and Medicine.

And the new research warned some GPs see patient involvement mainly as a way of increasing compliance and convincing patients of the rightness of the GP's position, mirroring admissions in a recent Department of Health report on the programme.

Researchers from St George's Medical School in London discussed patient involvement with 24 London GPs. While GPs appreciated the importance of patient advocates, lack of consultation time meant they gave some patients significantly more time than others.

The researchers concluded extra funding was needed to increase patient involvement.

'It is contradictory for the UK Government to insist that GPs improve their professional practice with patients in specific ways without finding the resources for these improvements to be practically poss- ible,' they said.

The study appeared just a week after an eminent public health specialist criticised the expert patients programme for being rolled out too fast.

Professor Trevor Sheldon, professor of health services research at the University of York, said: 'It is being rolled out nationally before the local evaluation is completed, and despite the fact that initial results from the evaluation suggest poor uptake.'

Generally GPs were supportive of the idea of patient advocates, but scarce resources meant they experienced 'role tensions' with other areas of their jobs.

Dr Jim Kennedy, prescribing spokesperson for the RCGP, said that while the college strongly supported the Expert Patient Programme some of the details were still unclear.

'The question is whether the programme is the best way to do this,' he added.

By Cato Pedder

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