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GPC denies GPs will be stuck with out-of-hours until 2006

GPC negotiators have refuted claims from co-operatives that GPs will not be able to give up out-of-hours until as late as 2006 if the new contract is


The opt-out is expected to start in 2003, but co-ops have raised fears that PCTs will not be in a position to

provide out-of-hours services and also

allow most GPs to give up 24-hour


Pulse understands that ministers also accept that trusts will not be ready to offer the opt-out clause in 2003.

Dartford and Gravesham Doctors on Call co-op chair Dr Tony MacDonnell said it was an 'illusion' to think GPs would be able to give up out-of-hours from next year.

The start date depended on how quickly primary care organisations could find an alternative to co-ops, he added.

'There are no alternatives to co-ops in many places. And most co-ops cannot provide a commercial alternative if many of their present members opt out,' he said.

GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman angrily denied the claims.

He said trusts did not have to find an alternative provider and most would contract with co-ops to continue their service.

GPs misunderstood what opting out meant, he added.

'They think it means you don't have to get out of bed any more but the answer is you don't have to do that now. Opting out is opting out of responsibility and opting out of paying for it.'

Dr Buckman was adamant that there would be enough GPs willing to work shifts for the market to provide a service and ensure it was feasible for other GPs to opt out. 'I guarantee there is a figure that would get people out of bed,' he said.

Chair of the National Association of GP Co-operatives Dr Mark Reynolds said it could be an 'uphill struggle' for trusts to allow GPs to opt out from April 2003.

'If everyone could get all these things right quickly then GPs can opt out, but if the department and trusts can't it could be difficult,' he said.

NHS Confederation negotiator Chris Town said the likelihood of trusts being ready by April 2003 was 'slim'.

Mr Town, chief executive of North Peterborough PCT, added: 'One would hope that in many parts of the country it will be possible 12 months later.'

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