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Pay row as report rebukes GPs over shared care

GPs are facing a postcode lottery over when they will be able to opt out of out-of-hours care with some PCOs resorting to threats and pleading to fill empty shifts.

In Cornwall, co-op KernowDoc told GPs that unless they committed to filling 500 empty shifts next month by September 27, trusts 'may have no choice but to defer' the October opt-out until December.

In Somerset, the LMC told GPs that unless they agreed to fill two shifts each a month, the service would not be able to transfer in October. Problems filling shifts were also causing concern in Devon and Tayside, while Fife and Dorset also admitted having gaps.

In a letter to GPs, KernowDoc said 1,400 shifts were

unfilled over the next three months, 500 of them in

October.

Dr David Wearden, a GP in Bude, Cornwall, said many GPs would be 'incandescent with rage' over the threat.

Cornwall LMC chair Dr Phil Dommett has written to GPs saying that delay would be opposed 'vigorously' as it would be 'disastrous for morale'. He added: 'Doctors have a right to opt out of working out-of-hours and that has to be funded. It is not for GPs to find means of patching up deficits in PCT budgets.'

West of Cornwall PCT said the opt-out was still scheduled for next month. The three Cornwall trusts were set to make an announcement this week after crunch talks.

Somerset Coast LMC chair Dr John Higgie said: 'We are explaining that for a service to work doctors must be found.'

In Tayside, the PCO admitted it was difficult to fill

weekend shifts, and issued a letter begging GPs to 'please give serious consideration to working one of these shifts'.

GPC member Dr Charles Simenoff said: 'Once the PCT takes over it is their responsibility, not GPs'.'

The news came as Health Secretary John Reid told Parliament that guidance would clarify that patients should have access to Saturday morning surgery and home visits.

But the NHS Confederation said it had 'real concerns' about the Government's pledge of face-to-face contact with GPs out-of-hours.

By Joe Lepper and Cato Pedder

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