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GPs in dispute as cash for new staff is cut off

GPs in Northern Ireland stand to lose thousands of pounds after all four local health boards refused to continue paying for new staff.

The health boards have told GPs they cannot afford to reimburse them for clerical staff and nurses taken on after June 30, 2003, the end of the baseline year for

calculating practices' new contract income.

The GPC has told GPs affected by the decision to begin dispute resolution procedures in an effort to win back the cash.

Dr Brian Dunn, GPC Northern Ireland chair, also warned that GPs would withdraw from out-of-hours services if health boards 'wanted to screw them financially'.

He said practices would not have taken on extra staff had they known additional cash awarded in June last year would be stopped once the contract came into force.

'Our question is if it's appropriate to fund staff before March 31, 2004, why does it become inappropriate [after April 1],' he said. 'Most GPs feel if boards want to screw them financially they will do the same to the boards when it comes to out-of-hours. I think this is a genuine dispute.'

Dr Colin Hegan, chair of the Northern LMC, said his practice was one of up to 20 in the Northern board region alone that faced either paying out up to £20,000 to keep the staff, or making cutbacks.

'Boards have discretion to top up outside the baseline year but they have apparently unanimously decided none will pay this money and say they are acting on the advice of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety,' he said.

The Northern board confirmed it would not be reimbursing practices. A spokesman said: 'In line with the regional implementation of the contract all four boards have agreed it is not possible to exercise this discretion within funding available.'

A spokesman for the Southern board said it had told practices in 2003 that the extra cash might not be included in their global sum equivalent. 'Practices that appointed new staff or upgraded existing staff were made aware of the financial risks involved.'

Talks between the GPC and the department have so far failed to find a solution.

By Ian Cameron

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