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GPC cannot afford another MMR snub

The Department of Health seems to share a magician’s delight at plucking new policies from its hat.

The Department of Health seems to share a magician's delight at plucking new policies from its hat.



Perhaps it is the drama of the moment, or the sense of power that comes from holding important secrets, but ministers apparently like nothing better than springing a major surprise.

Earlier this year, Gordon Brown left GPs choking on their cups of coffee with his announcement of proposals for a raft of new screening programmes.

And just last week, the DH unveiled plans for a nationwide MMR catch-up campaign – catching not only the public, but also the doctors who will be critical in delivering the programme, completely off guard.

Out in the cold

The GPC was less than amused to be completely frozen out of the planning process over the MMR campaign.

Whether GPs will lead on the programme will vary from area to area, but at the very least they will be providing data on unvaccinated patients, discussing the benefits of immunisation with parents and following up infants who have slipped through the net.

As a matter of common courtesy, if nothing else, the DH should surely have consulted with negotiators, listened to their advice and concerns, and allowed them to disseminate information to their GP colleagues.

Which perhaps was the point. Common courtesy is just what the DH does not want to show to the GPC right now. An uncommon snub fits the mood much better.

Failing to consult with the GPC could have been an oversight, but it feels far more like part of a deliberate strategy, to isolate the negotiators and punish them for playing hardball over polyclinics and privatisation.

It does, after all, come straight after the latest bout of anti-GP headlines, over gentlemen's agreements and most recently over lack of access to surgeries.

The GPC has been successful at taking the DH head on, but it also needs to rekindle its working relationship with ministers.

It will not be easy. Bruisers such as Ben Bradshaw seem oblivious to the resentment they are stoking, and the Government as a whole sees a slump in GP morale as a price worth paying to score political points with patients.

But not every minister is as belligerent as Bradshaw, and not every official is as stubborn as immunisation chief Professor David Salisbury.

Negotiators need to open up a dialogue with the more convivial elements of the DH, as a first step to restoring their influence with the Government.

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