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GPs' future still hangs in the balance

Frantic 11th-hour negotiations are continuing to thrash out a deal on GP pensions with just days to go before GPs see how much they could earn under the new GMS contract.

A facesaving fudge has been agreed on 48-hour access with incentives likely for GPs who meet the voluntary target.

Ministers are still pushing for agreement to allow patients to register with more than one GP.

But Health Secretary Alan Milburn has given his seal of approval to a substantial pay rise for GPs.

After meeting negotiators last week, Dr David Jenner, the NHS Alliance representative on the GP contract reference group, said: 'I am confident sufficient new financial resources will be made available to implement this contract and it will be received positively by the majority of the profession subject to final negotiation on key points.'

Negotiators have worked through the weekend and will continue through the night this week to finalise the contract in time for Friday's deadline.

The GPC is still pushing for an improvement in the pensions accrual rate. A date must also be settled for when GPs can start opting out of out-of-hours care. The GPC has won its battle to end forced patient allocations but ministers are seeking to delay the change.

GPC member Dr Charles Simenoff said he feared the GPC negotiators might have to cave in on key demands. 'I don't know why it's all had to be done at the last minute. Maybe the negotiators will accept something they might not have accepted.'

Earlier in the week Mr Milburn pre-empted the new contract by trailing the idea of patients being able to register with more than one GP.

In a keynote speech on extending patient choice, he said: 'In a busy mobile society patients should be able to register with a GP practice near where they work if that is more convenient for them.'

A senior Department of Health official said: 'Dual registration is being discussed as part of negotiations on the GMS contract. Negotiators on both sides are aware of the importance of patient choice. It is a key part of the Government's agenda to bolster choice in primary care.'

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