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GPs should maintain solidarity in adversity

How Alan Johnson and his underling health ministers must be licking their lips at the first signs of GPs openly starting to scrap for patients.

How Alan Johnson and his underling health ministers must be licking their lips at the first signs of GPs openly starting to scrap for patients.

For months, the Department of Health has been willing GPs to adopt a more dog-eat-dog approach. Why should general practice be any different from the rest of business, Mr Johnson and the Prime Minister's cronies at the CBI have repeatedly asked.

And now, in a worrying new turn in the fiasco over extended hours, there are signs that some GPs are beginning to break ranks with the unashamed marketing of their longer opening hours to patients at ‘rival' local practices.

The NHS Confederation has also, unhelpfully, entered the fray, claiming confidently that practices will increasingly be left with no option than to take a hard-nosed approach to marketing their services.

Either opt into the DES and publicise your extended hours to tempt patients away from neighbouring GPs – or see your patients vote with their feet, goes the argument.

Don't get suckered in

So what should GPs make of all this? Must they refuse to get suckered into a fight for each other's patients – or face up more pragmatically to the shiny new competitive future of primary care?

In normal business, sticking together comes a distant second to beating rivals at any cost. But, whatever Mr Johnson might claim, general practice isn't normal business and never has been.

The extended hours initiative is just one small part of a much wider Government drive to shake up the very foundations of primary care. If GPs allow themselves to be picked off in that battle, ministers will feel emboldened to press on in the much wider war.

Of course it is the prerogative of individual practices to decide whether or not it's worth their while opting into extended hours.

But it is not the business of GPs to try to poach each other's patients. Solidarity in adversity is still possible, and that's the route that GPs should opt for.

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