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GPs angered by 'taste of own medicine' jibe

By Anna Hodgekiss

GPs and patient groups have condemned Government comments that a new 'mystery caller' system to check whether practices are offering 48-hour access will 'give doctors a taste of their own medicine'.

A Department of Health briefing note outlining the scheme, seen by Pulse, describ-ed it as 'just part of Government plans to hand patients the power to give GPs a taste of their own medicine by docking doctors' pay'.

Mystery callers from PCTs will phone practices on a random day each month to ensure patients can get an appointment within 48 hours. They will also ask when the third free appointment falls, to better judge depth of access.

The scheme, to start next month, is designed to stop practices clearing their appointment books before a known monthly survey date.

The first draft of the plans containing the inflammtory comments was sent to the BMA and the Guardian newspaper, which reported them.

The following day, when the announcement was circulated to the rest of the media, the remarks had been removed.

A spokesman for the department claimed the first copy was never intended as an official press notice, but as a 'briefing document'.

But GPs and patient groups branded the statements 'immature' and 'confrontational'.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chair, told Pulse: 'The approach taken is a particularly immature way to run the health service. We do not run it on the basis of name, blame, shame, punishment and tit for tat.'

Dr Jeff Featherstone, a GP in Liverpool, said: 'This smacks of a Government that has hit rock bottom and has reached a state of incredibility. 'We are being given more and more work from secondary care, so is it any wonder that the average number of consultations a person has a year has risen?'

Sally Brearley, chair of patients' organisation Health Link, said the Government was trying to divide GPs and patients: 'Comments like this mean the battlelines have been drawn. The Government is trying to use patients to bat GPs and nurses on the head, which is just ridiculous.'

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said the use of mystery callers would have little impact on how practical the target was for GPs to hit.

Dr David Bevan, a GP in Upwell, Cambridgeshire, said: 'Bearing in mind the first thing a receptionist asks a caller is their name, I'd like to see how these mystery callers won't be rumbled in the first 15 seconds.'

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