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Pay survey by next week? MPIGs might fly...

How do you solve a problem like MPIG? That’s the question NHS Employers and GP leaders have been grappling with for many months now, and this week we saw the first fruit of their labours.

By Steve Nowottny

How do you solve a problem like MPIG? That's the question NHS Employers and GP leaders have been grappling with for many months now, and this week we saw the first fruit of their labours.

There is to be a national survey of practices, focusing particularly on the 500 with the highest protection payments, asking them to explain the ‘historical reasons' for their high correction factors. It will be very much a joint initiative, co-sponsored by the GPC and NHS Employers, and enlisting the help not only of SHAs and PCTs but LMCs as well.

Oh, and the deadline's a week tomorrow.

The decision to look again at the reasons behind correction factors, while a tacit admission that the ratios agreement may not have got it quite right, is a sensible one. After all, the one thing you can't have when approaching a problem of this complexity is too much information, and as the explanatory letter admits, a previous attempt at a PCT-led analysis yielded ‘insufficient detail'.

But the timescale is, as one LMC secretary put it, ‘geniunely perplexing'. Translation? MPIGs might fly. Turning around a project of this scale in under three weeks just isn't practical, most agreed (the ones who were aware of it at all, anyway).

It's not entirely clear why the big rush. The GPC and NHS Employers say it was at the Department of Health's request. We've asked the Department for its reasons, twice. The first response was ‘that is in line with a timetable agreed between NHS Employers and the GPC.' The second was ‘the deadline was agreed as part of ongoing work.' Translation? Because we say so.

But what's clear is that getting rid of the MPIG is now a top Government priority, and how they do so will be one of the big issues for GPs of the year (extended hours for 2009, as one senior GPC member put it).

Tomorrow, the GPC holds its first meeting of the year. The ever-guarded BMA refuses to disclose– to us at least – exactly what's on the agenda (BMA members can however check it out for themselves here). But the correction factor survey is certain to be among the topics discussed.

Where negotiators have already led, the GPC is likely to follow. But there is some unease in the ranks about the speed of this survey, and the way in which ministers may choose to use the results. To what extent that unease manifests itself tomorrow could set the tone for the coming months.

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