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GPs punished for the sins of others

Ouch. It’s been a tough few weeks to be a GP, but last week’s National Audit Office report marked a new low.

Ouch. It's been a tough few weeks to be a GP, but last week's National Audit Office report marked a new low.

Financial audits are usually moderate, temperate, dull even, whereas this one was an exercise in mischief.

From its provocative wording to its dodgy figures to its baffling calculations on productivity, it seemed a sustained, deliberate and gratuitous attempt to wind GPs up.

The National Audit Office's main conclusion – that the contract was a gross waste of public cash – will not exactly have endeared it to GPs, given the report's apparent ambivalence to the dramatic improvements in care under the QOF.

But what was strangest was who the national media chose to blame for all this supposed waste.

In the negotiations over the GMS contract, it was the job of the GP negotiators to get a good deal for GPs – and the job of NHS Employers, on behalf of the Government, to secure good value for the public purse.

Given that, it seems odd, if not perverse, to lay the blame for wasted cash at the door of GPs.

Dark days

The NAO report claimed GPs were working shorter hours, but chose as its comparison the dark days of 1992, when the profession was beset by stress and low morale.

It claimed GP pay had soared by nearly 60% but failed to subtract pensions contributions.

And it accused partners of exploiting salaried GPs and practice nurses, while using crude average pay figures that did not take into account the large numbers of staff newly recruited on starting salaries.

But most insidious of all were the accusations over gaming of the QOF – criticisms reiterated in a new Centre for Health Economics report.

The number of practices involved looks to be tiny, but it will be wise for GPs to co-operate with any renewed scrutiny.

In the current febrile environment, the profession can't afford to give its critics any ammunition, however contrived.

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