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GPs face delays over out-of-hours opt-out

GPs will find it difficult to quit out-of-hours work when the new contract comes into force next April as primary care organisations are struggling to commission alternative services.

PCOs will be obliged to take over responsibility from December 31, 2004, but GPs may opt out from April if PCOs agree.

In a briefing paper on the contract, the NHS Confederation said practices should inform PCOs by the end of September if they want to opt out.

GPC joint-deputy chair Dr Simon Fradd has warned PCOs not to delay setting up alternative services until December 2004 but to 'get on with it as soon as possible'.

Dr David Black, chair of Newcastle Emergency Doctors Service, said the small co-op was set to fold but Newcastle PCT was struggling to find funds for a project manager to develop a new PCT-run service. 'The intention was to get someone in by late summer. This will leave a very short time to put in place an ambitious project.'

Another small co-op, Worth and Aire GP Emergency Centre, is also planning to close, as GPs are reluctant to continue as a provider to their PCO.

Director Dr Neil Smith said the trust was now having to provide a service 'from scratch'.

He added: 'I doubt whether this will be ready for next April.'

Dr Nigel Watson, deputy chief executive of Wessex

LMCs, said there was 'a great deal of talk going on but not a great deal of action' about setting up alternative services.

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