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Out-of-hours GPs accused of 'profiteering' from swine flu

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: A GP out-of-hours organisation has accused several of its own duty doctors of ‘profiteering' from the swine flu pandemic, and threatened to report them to the GMC.

Surrey-based out-of-hours provider Thamesdoc wrote to all of its duty doctors earlier this month, claiming that some of them had breached GMC guidelines.

In a letter seen by Pulse, medical director Dr Alan Blackburn wrote: ‘We have been given details of some duty doctors who are profiteering from the present flu pandemic. As such action is contrary to the recent GMC Pandemic Guidelines, doctors who are blatantly disregarding these guidelines may be reported to the GMC.'

Thamesdoc did not return several phone calls this week asking for clarification on the claim. But a Surrey GP who covers out-of-hours shifts for Thamesdoc, who asked not to be named, told Pulse that the accusation came after a shortage of GPs in late July had pushed shift rates up by as much as 100%.

‘When they can't find anybody they put their rates up until they get somebody,' he said. ‘What they're complaining about is those people who are hanging on until the rate goes up.'

‘More or less every day they were phoning out with shifts that they've not managed to fill at time and a half. Occasionally they've got really desperate and put it up to double-time.'

The accusation of ‘profiteering' has caused considerable anger among local GPs, many of whose practices had been stretched by swine flu and summer holidays, he added.

‘It's a purely commercial decision – I don't want to work, but I will work for money that is good enough. And they're saying "I'm going to report you to the GMC" which I think is a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut.'

Dr Julius Parker, chief executive of Surrey and Sussex LMCs, said he was unaware of both the accusations and any incidents of ‘profiteering'.

But he said that there had been no such issues at nearby out-of-hours provider East Berkshire Primary Care, of which he is medical director.

‘All I can say is that we've had no GP do anything like that in our area. We haven't needed to pay more for people to work at short notice. In fact, we've been amazed how great the GPs have been in responding to the situation.'

A spokesperson for the GMC was unable to confirm whether it had received any complaints about GPs ‘profiteering' from swine flu.

She said: ‘Good Medical Practice is clear that doctors must be ‘honest and open in financial and commercial dealings with employers, insurers and other organisations or individuals.'

‘We do not discuss individual complaints as we have a duty of confidentiality to both the doctor and complainant.'

Out of hours GPs have been accused of 'profiteering' from the swine flu panddemic Out of hours GPs have been accused of 'profiteering' from the swine flu panddemic The letter in full

The following letter was sent to GPs who work for ThamesDoc earlier this month, by medical director Dr Alan Blackburn

Dear Doctor

I am writing to all of the Duty Doctors to express our thanks and appreciation for the hard work and commitment shows to Thamesdoc during the recent outbreak of Swine Flu. Although call levels appear to have decreased at present we are still receiving a number of Swine Flu calls. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and maintain levels of clinicians in order to provide a robust service.

However, we have been given details of some Duty Doctors who are profiteering from the present flu pandemic. As such action is contrary to the recent GMC Pandemic Guidelines, doctors who are blatantly disregarding these guidelines may be reported to the GMC.

Yours sincerely

Dr Alan Blackburn

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