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LMCs sceptical over GP contract militancy

By Steve Nowottny

GPC leaders face an uphill struggle to persuade GPs to reject the Government's contract offer, with early indications suggesting LMCs are reluctant to adopt the negotiators' militant stance.

GPs will be polled in the second or third week of February on whether they wish to accept the offer, under which practices would have to offer extended opening or face a pay cut.

But LMC secretaries, who have been holding crisis meetings with members, fear GPs could be frightened into accepting the deal to avoid even greater cuts – even though the GPC believes the Government would then come back with an even worse deal next year.

Ministers have warned that in the event of a No vote, they will unilaterally impose a far tougher contract that could cost the average practice £36,000 should it refuse to offer extended opening.

Although the GPC officially has to remain neutral under poll rules, a briefing document drawn up by negotiators, who are set to tour the country to talk to LMCs, warns of the consequences of bowing to Government pressure.

It said: ‘Although the offer represents a drop in income, some may still feel it is something that can be tolerated. However, this offer will effectively be the third year of falling income and increasing costs.

‘This will effectively wipe out all of the gains made in the first two years of the contract.'

The document added: ‘There is an opinion that the imposition threatened this year will represent the Government's offer next year. Acceptance of this deal may encourage the Government to take an even stronger line next year.'

But among many LMCs, the mood is less radical. Dr John Rawlinson, chair of Berkshire LMC, said: ‘The GPC is trying to co-ordinate action, but in the end it will be down to what local GPs feel they should do. I think the feeling from talking to other GPs is heading along the lines of accept the deal, but then go on to try to educate the patients directly.'

Dr Jane Lothian, secretary of Northumberland LMC, where the majority of GPs are on PMS contracts, said local practices were unfazed by the demand to offer longer opening hours.

‘The attitude among PMS doctors in our area is that we're not bothered about it,' she said.

What LMCs are saying around the country

Dr Jane Lothian, secretary of Northumberland LMC
‘The attitude among PMS doctors in our area, of which the vast majority are PMS, is that we're not that bothered about it. A lot of the practices are opening extended hours with our geography anyway.'

Dr Rob Barnett, Liverpool LMC
‘This is the thin end of the wedge for some doctors. If they accept this deal what's going to happen next year, what's going to happen the year after? It doesn't take much to actually think 10 years down the line we're going to be in the same situation as dentists.'

Dr John Rawlinson, chair of Berkshire LMC
‘I think the feeling from talking to other GPs is heading along the lines of: accept the deal but then go on to try to educate the patients directly. We do after all have them coming to see us in our surgeries and that gives us an opportunity to inform the patients of what "options" the Government has put to us.'

Dr Simon Lockett, secretary of Norfolk LMC and a GP in Taverham
‘I think Norfolk hasn't traditionally been terribly militant but who knows what will happen this time? I think most GPs are pragmatists and I think they'll think carefully about pros and cons and then make their decision.'

Dr Jane Lothian, secretary of Northumberland LMC: 'We're not that bothered about extended hours.' Dr Jane Lothian, secretary of Northumberland LMC

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