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'GPs' morale hit by patient choice drive'

Ministers are guilty of 'empty moral abstraction' by pushing for patients to be more involved in GPs' decisions about their care, Government-funded research concludes.

The qualitative study found GP morale was undermined by the Department of Health drive to increase patient choice because doctors did not have enough time to properly involve patients, even though most wanted to.

GPs involved in the research by St George's Medical School, recently published by the department, said 10-minute consultations were not long enough for GPs to discuss fully the treatment options available to patients.

One of the 24 GPs questioned said: 'Until we suddenly have fewer patients there is absolutely not a hope of us being able to spend more time with each of them.'

The research concluded that the Government had to invest more in general practice to ensure longer consultations if it wanted greater patient involvement.

'Time was seen both as

one of the biggest barriers

to involvement and one of

the scarcest resources in

general practice,' the study found.

'If strategies for patient involvement are pursued this will have significant implications for funding primary care, particularly in addressing demands made on consultation time.'

The department admitted in a response to the study – one of 12 relating to patient involvement in health care – that time constraints would 'remain a prominent problem'.

It said: 'Insufficient time is a barrier to the implementation of all aspects of patient involvement processes.'

Dr David Bevan, a GP in Sudbury, Suffok, said GPs would support parts of the patient choice agenda, such as electronic booking of hospitals during consultations, if they were given the resources to make it work.

'The profession should take choice on as a quality issue and the Government should take electronic booking on as a resource issue,' he said.

GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman said GPs had to tell patients it was the Government's fault if they were unable to give them the choices they were expecting.

'Patients are terrific allies in the fight with the Government,' he said.

By Ian Cameron

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