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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Tories want two-speed GP referral

By Steve Nowottny

Patients will be able to select which consultant they see and register with a practice close to work rather than their home, if the Conservatives win the election, under radical plans by the party to shake up the choice agenda.

The Tories said patients would be offered choice of either being referred to a named consultant or receiving a more generic, but possibly quicker, referral to a hospital department.

A policy document from the party - An NHS Information Revolution to Save Lives – sets out plans to make care more convenient for patients and provide them with greater flexibility and choice.

Their proposals would allow patients to rate, and gain access to comparative information on, individual doctors, and greater flexibility to choose practice.

But the plans would raise the prospect of practices in commuter belts losing patients to those at the centre of towns.

Mark Simmonds, Conservative shadow minister for health, speaking at the NHS Alliance Spring Conference in London, said: 'We need to give patients greater ability to choose GPs and move surgeries if they so wish.

‘We also want to give patients the ability to choose the practice that's most convenient to them, and their particular lifestyle, and whether it's close to their place of work.'

And the Conservatives said they would break the ‘monopoly' of NHS Choices and offer Government funding to other private companies to give patients more information and choice on NHS services. This information would include the opportunity to search for the best GP in their area and find practices or hospitals scoring more highly for treating certain conditions.

The Tories praised the controversial rate-your-GP website www.iwantgreatcare.org - which allows patients to anonymously rate and comment on individual doctors' performance – as an ‘example of the kind of innovation we want to encourage'.

Their document added ‘private and third sector providers have clearly shown they are far better at providing and disseminating information than the public sector'.

But Dr Steve Steinhardt, a GP in Gloucester and treasurer of Gloucester LMC, warned against fostering consumerism that may not be in the best interests of the patient.

‘In most of the country, most patients are very happy with the care they receive from their GP and receive good continuity of care.

‘Choice has to fit in with the resources available and has to fit into the best interests of the patient,' he said.

Tory plans for patient choice

- Patients to have freedom to register with the practice that fits with ‘their particular lifestyle'

- NHS Choices to leave DH control and funding opened up to private providers

- Patients to have access to a raft of new information, such as where to find the best GP and information on which practices have the best scores for their condition

- GPs and patients to have the choice of referral to a named consultant or a generic referral

Source: The Conservatives, An NHS Information Revolution to Save Lives, April 2009

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