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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Patients promised right to book appointments ahead

GPs face hours of unpaid toil complying with the Freedom of Information Act after the Government said requests for data that cost less than £450 to meet must be provided free.

The decision means GPs will have to spend at least a day getting information for patients, UK firms or foreign companies before they can apply for payment.

Ministers have promised to compensate local councils for the cost of meeting requests under the Act, but have given GPs no such support.

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said the Act, which comes into force from January 1, placed 'obnoxious' demands on GPs and he had raised doctors' concerns with the Cabinet Office.

'The regulatory burden on GPs is so high it's already impacting on clinical care of patients,' he said.

'We've got lawyers on it at the moment. If 9,000 practices have to stop work I suspect the Government will reverse its attitude.'

Dr Holden said if the Government refused to change the £450 floor, the GPC might call for an increase in the global sum to take account of the extra work.

Dr Paul Kind, a senior research fellow at York University's Centre for Health Economics, said GPs could face an extra problem making data accessible to patients. They might have to print out images that cannot be read without practice software, he said.

NHS Alliance chair Dr Mike Dixon added: 'GPs don't want to spend all day providing information and not treating patients'.

Freedom of Information Act - GPs' obligations

From January 2005 the public will have the right to access information held by public bodies, including GP surgeries, regardless of when it was created. Practices should have already published a 'scheme' stating what information they intend to make available and how it will be published. GPs will have 20 days to respond to written requests for data. Applicants can either ask for a copy of the information, the chance to inspect the actual records or for a summary. Personal information such as patients' records is protected by the Data Protection Act and cannot be accessed. Information on practice income or morbidity data is more likely to be requested.

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