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Patients to be allowed to visit multiple GP practices

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: The Government has given PCTs the all-clear to introduce a controversial new system under which patients could gain access to GP care at more than one practice, Pulse can reveal.

Several trusts are already drawing up plans to allow patients to register with a practice near their work but continue receiving care from a GP near their home.

Under the plans, the unidentified PCTs will relax rules on patient registration to throw open practice boundaries, so commuters can register near their work rather than where they live.

The practice where the patient is registered will be responsible for ensuring arrangements are in place for patients to access home visits. Pulse understands patients will also be able to attend a GP near their home if they don't need a visit but are too ill to go to work.

The plans, revealed by Ben Dyson, director of primary care at the Department of Health, are part of a drive to widen patient choice and improve access to GPs during office hours for patients who commute.

Although the proposals apply only to patients who live and work within the same PCT, the move is viewed by some GPs as dual registration by the back door, as the rules around practice catchment areas become increasingly blurred.

The latest proposals follow Lord Darzi's NHS Next Stage Review last year, which stressed the importance of widening practice boundaries to increase competition among GPs.

Mr Dyson told key primary care policymakers at a recent event in Westminster: ‘A number of PCTs are interested in adapting rules and regulations so patients can register with practices further away from where they live.'

He said the moves by trusts were ‘worth looking at', although he stressed it was ‘not something we want to lay down a national blueprint for'.

Dual registration has been mooted for a number of years, but the DH has expressed concerns on the grounds of cost and continuity of care.

A DH spokesperson told Pulse: ‘GP practices can choose to register patients who live outside their normal practice area so long as the practice has made appropriate arrangements for home visits. PCTs are free to explore with practices how to promote choice over which practices they can register with.'

But Dr Mark McCartney, a GP in Pensilva, Cornwall, said: ‘This is another deliberate attempt to weaken our position as GPs, which will result in further fragmentation of care.

‘It may be more convenient for patients but they should be aware that if they become seriously ill and need care at home it may be much more difficult to obtain that care.'

Dr Tony Le Vann, a GP in Doncaster, added that the plans raised serious issues over continuity of care: ‘Unless there was good communication between the two practices, we are opening up all sorts of problems.'

But Dr Asad Mubarik, a GP in Halifax, said the changes to registration rules could benefit patients. ‘It may be a good thing,' he said. ‘I think problems will arise more along the lines of how payments are made to GPs.'

Patients to be able to use dual GP practices Patients to be able to use dual GP practices

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