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PCOs will have to increase pay rates dramatically to lure GPs to work out-of-hours shifts next year, doctors are warning.

GPs said existing rates of around £60 an hour for night and weekend shifts would not be enough to entice them once their legal obligation ends on January 1.

The caution came after new services in Tayside, Lothian, Somerset and Cornwall were able to take over only because GPs agreed at the last minute to work shifts to 'get the service up and running'.

Tayside LMC secretary Dr Andrew Buist said weekend day shifts had been hardest to fill as rates were 'probably too low' at £60 an hour before midnight and £80 an hour for the red-eye shift.

'If that pattern continues after December the rates will have to go up,' said Dr Buist, a GP in Blairgowrie.

'I think GPs are working very hard in the week with the new contract, and the bottom line is to get them out they are not attracted by £60 an hour.'

GP co-op KernowDoc in Cornwall has advertised for out-of-hours doctors at pay rates 'in excess of' £140,000 a year to provide cover after struggling to find enough

local GPs to fill its rota.

The GPC said it could not set or suggest pay, but warned that 'market forces would dictate rates' next year and urged PCOs to start talks with doctors now.

Dr Mary Church, joint-chair of GPC Scotland, said: 'It would be very silly to wait until January and then have no doctors'.

Dr Robbie Coull, a GP locum in Inverness, said he had been trying to secure on-call work in Fife but low pay rates made it impossible.

'They say they are desperate to fill shifts but when I tell them what my rates are they will not pay it.

'My rates are £85 an hour before midnight and £125 an hour after midnight at weekends,' he added.

Somerset's service went live at the beginning of the month, after the LMC implored GPs to fill shifts.

LMC medical secretary Dr Harry Yoxall admitted it may be harder to find GPs to work in January, and trusts would have to consider using other professionals.

By Nerys Hairon

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