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At the heart of general practice since 1960

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GPs are being offered a £95 million 'bribe' by the Government to sign up to the controversial Choose and Book scheme.

Health Secretary John Reid pledged the money in the wake of a damning National Audit Office report into the £200 million electronic booking scheme. The NAO concluded it would fail unless the Government got GPs more involved.

But GPs have scorned the offer. They said extra cash would not quell their objections over workload and threats to confidentiality.

GPs also said practices would never see the cash, worth around £3,000 per doctor, because it had not been ringfenced.

PCTs will get the £95 million in three stages during the next two years according to how many practices they can persuade to use new Choose and Book software.

The Department of Health confirmed there was no obligation on trusts to spend the money on GP services.

Dr Peter Holden, GPC negotiator, said the cash was 'nothing more than a bribe package handed out to PCTs to met their deficits'.

Fellow negotiator Dr Andrew Dearden said handing out more money did not address the 'fundamental problems' with Choose and Book.

He said: 'You can't just throw money at it. It won't help problems such as confidentiality and worload.'

A survey of 1,500 GPs by the NAO found nine GPs in 10 believed their workload would rise as a result of Choose and Book. Some 60 per cent were 'negative' about the scheme.

Dr Andy Stewart, chair of Cornwall LMC, said he would not take part even if the Government could 'doubled the money'. He said: 'I don't want to be a glorified travel agent and no amount of money is going to change that.'

The Government target is for all GP referrals to be done through Choose and Book by the end of 2005, with 70 per cent done electronically.

But just 63 electronic referrals had been made by the end of December, compared with a target of 205,000. GPs refer 9.4 million patients per year.

·GP support at rock bottom,

page 7

By Joe Lepper

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