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GPs fear pay delay as PCOs face up to contract struggle

Grave doubts have emerged over primary care organisations' ability to implement the new contract on time after Government guidance gave them a near-impossible timetable.

In a letter to PCOs last week, the Department of Health said it 'hopes' to give them new systems to pay GPs in February 2004 ­ leaving two months at most to train staff before the contract comes into force in April.

The letter adds that the

actual GMS contract for GPs and PCOs to sign will not be available until 'early autumn' but PCOs should ask GPs now which services they want to opt out of and make arrangements to provide them.

The department admits PCOs face a 'major and critical operational challenge' to implement the deal in just nine months.

GPs said shortages of expertise and personnel meant the timetable would be impossible to meet.

GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman said some PCOs had already told GPs they couldn't cope.

'Many are seriously understaffed for the job they're about to undertake,' he said. 'They're going to have to have expertise in areas where they haven't got it ­ personnel, law, IT and clinical quality.'

Dr Harry Yoxall, medical secretary of Somerset LMC, said it would be 'impossible' for trusts to implement new payment systems in time.

'It's distinctly alarming that something as fundamental as how GPs will get paid will come in so late,' he said.

'It's just not going to be possible for everyone to get up to speed in this time.

Dr Peter Smith, chair of the National Association of Primary Care, said the timetable was 'extremely tight'.

He said: 'When you consider the amount of work PMS involved, there's more here.'

But Dr Mike Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance, said pressure from ministers meant it was 'not an option' for PCOs to fail. He said: 'It would be very bad for public relations if trusts weren't ready to implement it by next April.'

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