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Scottish GPs set to break from UK contract

By Steve Nowottny

The English Government's privatisation and polyclinics agenda could mean the days of the UK contract are numbered, GPs have been told.

Grassroots GPs at the Scottish LMCs conference defied GPC advice and voted to back a motion arguing ‘the time is now right to consider a purely Scottish contract which addresses the needs of Scottish GPs, and which is not predicated on the political imperatives of London and the South East of England.'

Although passed, the motion was ‘taken as a reference' and will not therefore form official SGPC policy. But GPC Scotland chair Dr Dean Marshall, who argued against the motion, admitted the strength of feeling shown had been far greater than in previous years.

‘I personally don't think we can continue long without having significant or increasing differences between the contracts,' he said.

The ‘widening' gap between English and Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish health policy on key general practice issues was to blame, he added.

In recent months the devolved countries have increasingly distanced themselves from Whitehall. Ministers in Northern Ireland attracted attention by deciding extended hours was ‘not a priority', while earlier this month a rare joint statement from the health ministers of all three countries reaffirmed their support for a public NHS – seen as an sideswipe at policies in England.

The Welsh Assembly Government went one step further when it signalled a bold break with England by proposing to abolish the NHS internal market.

Dr John Rankin, a GP in Stirling, Forth Valley, argued that the contract dispute, extended hours and polyclinics had disillusioned Scottish GPs.

‘We must have the opportunity in Scotland to discuss with a Scottish government what's best for our patients,' he said. ‘The contract has always been tartanized – but I believe we need more than this now.'

Dr Brian Fitzsimons, a GP in Tain, Highland, added: ‘The folks on the ground would like to look at it, get some steer, get some comment and maybe have a Scottish national vote once they're better informed.'

Dr Peter Terry, the chair of Scottish Council - who as a consultant already works to a Scottish contract - also backed the move.

‘It's not us who's diverging – it's England who's going off in a completely different direction,' he said.

But others urged caution. Dr Alan McDevitt, a GP in Clydebank in Glasgow, said: ‘There may come a point where we have to get off the sinking ship of the English NHS – but we're not there yet.'

BMA Scotland: set for UK breakup BMA Scotland: set for UK breakup Dr Dean Marshall: Scottish breakaway much closer Dr Dean Marshall: Scottish breakaway much closer

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