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Primecare backs down over tie-ins

Primecare is scrapping controversial contracts that tie GPs to its out-of-hours service until the end of 2004, regardless of when their primary care organisation allows them to opt out.

The deputising service has shortened the notice period on the contracts from a year to four months after angry protests from GPs and PCOs.

The original contracts revealed by Pulse stated practices must stay with the company until December 31, 2004, unless their PCO commissioned Primecare as its out-of-hours provider or paid the contract out.

The BMA had been checking the legal implications of the contracts.

Primecare medical director Dr Mike Sadler admitted the tie-in had been a 'potential barrier' but denied it had lost business as a result.

'I do not believe there is a single customer who has left us on the basis that they are not willing to sign because of the 12-month contract,' he said.

Primecare recently announced price rises of up to 33 per cent for next year.

It lost out to GP co-operatives in Southampton and areas of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire in battles to become a preferred provider, but last week won a three-year contract in the Tees Valley region covering 330 GPs.

GPs said the decision to shorten the notice period will enable GPs to opt out earlier.

GPC joint-deputy chair Dr Simon Fradd, who uses Primecare, said GPs needed the company to take on services next year.

'Primecare has gone a long way to drop the notice period from 12 months to four. This is really a problem generated by the new contract and one would look to Government to sort that out.'

Dr Mike North, clinical director of Maldon Doctors on Call in Essex, said all GP in the region would now be able to opt out in July when a new county-wide co-op plans to take over services.

Dr Peter Meade, a medical director of Brighton Doctors on Call, said between 10 and 20 GPs using Primecare had expressed an interest in joining the co-op in January because of concerns over price hikes and contracts.

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