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Tories to scrap extra hours funding

By Steve Nowottny

The Conservative party has announced it will axe the Extended Access DES and scrap targets for evening and weekend opening, but refused to confirm whether that money would be redeployed elsewhere.

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said this week that even though three out of four practices now offer extended hours, his party would stand by its pledge, revealed in Pulse in April last year, to hand back control of opening hours to GPs.

The announcement comes as the Conservatives clashed with GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman over their plans for primary care, with Dr Buckman warning GPs ‘Don't think it will be better under the Tories.'

The Government this week revealed it was just a few practices shy of its revised extended hours target, with 74.7% of practices across the country now offering extended opening in April.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised in March to have 75 percent of GP practices open early in the mornings, in evenings or at weekends by the end of the year.

But Mr Lansley said he stood by his argument that ‘senior professionals providing a service who are accountable to patients should not have their hours controlled by Government'. A Conservative Government would pay GPs to reward outcomes rather than specific access targets, he said.

But the Tories came under fire this week from Dr Buckman, who warned that a Conservative Government would pose new challenges to GPs – and would effectively mean a return to fundholding.

Speaking at the Surrey and Sussex LMCs' annual conference in Crawley, Dr Buckman issued a note of caution over Conservative plans for primary care.

‘Don't think it will be better under the Tories,' he said. ‘The Tories have got their own suite of ideas, many of which would make you shake.'

‘I'm sure they'd be terribly miffed if I say this, but I think what they're after is fundholding mark two. They're not going to call it that, but it certainly has the feel of fundholding about it.'

But Mr Lansley immediately hit back at the comments, accusing Dr Buckman of misrepresenting his party's plans.

He said: ‘Lawrence Buckman knows perfectly well there are significant differences between our proposals and fundholding.'

‘There will be a clear demarcation between patient budgets and practice income so that reward comes through achieving results not savings from patient care.'

‘We will use payment by results and the tariff to make sure we have a standard contract which will avoid the bureaucracy associated with fund-holding,' he added.

Dr Krishna Korlipara, a GP in Bolton, welcomed Mr Lansley's commitment on extended hours.

‘The overwhelming majority of GPs would welcome the abolition of extended hours, which is absurd from the beginning,' he said.

‘It certainly doesn't promote patients' interest - it simply adds to the chores and raises public expectations which can never be fulfilled.'

Latest Tory plans for primary care

• patients would be able to select which consultant they see and register with a practice closer to work than home in bid to revitalise choice agenda
• NHS Choices would lose its monopoly, with private companies such as encouraged to compete to provide information on NHS services
• Extended hours targets would be abolished, with extended hours funding diverted elsewhere
• GPs would be free to commission services from neighbouring PCTs under plans to beef up PBC
• GPs would have to ‘step up to the plate' and take a lead role in rationing drugs and treatments for patients

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