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Milburn poised to force changes in GP referral culture

GPs will face increased pressure from PCTs to change the way they refer as part of the Health Secretary's drive to make the NHS 'consumer friendly'.

Alan Milburn told a recent private conference of trust chief executives they had to 'change the mindset of GPs and how they refer' to make April's tax rises more palatable to the public.

GPs reacted by saying they were being set up to take the rap if investment failed to bring improvements to the NHS.

In a speech on extending patients' choice of hospitals, Mr Milburn said people would need to see results from the extra investment or the Government would face a public backlash.

Mr Milburn has promised that GPs will give patients a choice of four or five hospitals, including private hospitals, for elective surgery by 2005.

Changes will be funded from the 1 per cent rise in national insurance contributions from April.

'Make no mistake come April, there will be one hell of a lather about taxes rising,' he said.

'Every poll will tell you one thing ­ people like the idea, in principle, of paying more to get more out of the NHS. The problem is when it starts hitting people in the pocket,' he added.

Dr Ron Singer, president

of the Medical Practitioners Union, accused the Government of setting up GPs as

potential scapegoats.

'The Health Secretary seems to be saying GPs need to change their referrals and if his policies don't work it's because GPs didn't change their referral patterns. It's not uncommon for the Government to blame someone for a new policy failing in advance of the new policy,' he said.

Dr Peter Smith, chair of the National Association of Primary Care, said GPs needed much more information about hospitals' capacity before they adopted a new multi-hospital referral system.

'GPs who have been traditionally sending patients to a provider might be encouraged to send them elsewhere simply to support patient choice,' he said.

'They need to be given the information about those hospitals to fulfil their terms of service requirement that they refer appropriately.'

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