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Threat to GPs as ministers open door to private firms

The GPC is warning the

future of general practice is under threat after the Government made a shock move to end a 56-year old ban on the sale of goodwill.

New regulations set to be passed by April 1 mean practices and private firms could trade GP services and profit from the goodwill ­ an estimate of the current and expected profits from a service over and above tangible assets such as premises and equipment.

The move could mean principals leaving a practice are able to charge a new partner extra to buy their share in the partnership.

The GPC said this would have a devastating effect on recruitment.

GPC chair Dr John Chis-holm said: 'Young doctors will not be able to afford to buy their way into general practice. We already have a severe problem with the GP workforce and this would exaggerate that.'

He also warned the changes would open the door to more private firms taking on GP services and lead to a fragmentation of care.

Commercial providers could also see accruing goodwill as an incentive to undercut GPs' bids for enhanced services.

'We recognise alternative providers have a place in the new NHS but we do not believe they need the encouragement of being able to trade in goodwill in order to enter the marketplace,' Dr Chisholm added.

The new rules will apply only for additional, enhanced and out-of-hours services.

Dr John Couch, a GP and finance expert in Ashford, Middlesex, said the decision was 'the last thing' GPs

needed.

'If we were at the end of general practice as we know it with everyone becoming sal-aried and companies picking off practices it would be nice to get some extra money. But the reality is we hope GP partnerships will continue as they are and it's hard enough getting partners now.'

Ministers have said lifting the ban is necessary to encourage alternative providers to invest in primary care and increase patient choice.

A Department of Health spokesman denied the changes would make it more expensive for GPs to join a practice, or damage services.

By Ian Cameron

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