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Warner: patients will notice if you opt out

GPs who opt-out of practice-based commissioning will be at a severe disadvantage, health minister Lord Warner told Pulse.

In an exclusive interview after the release of Department of Health guidance on commissioning, Lord Warner said 'patients will notice' if practices did not take part and will pressurise GPs to do so.

His comments mark a further ratcheting up of the pressure on GPs, many of whom remain highly sceptical about the scheme. The Government has set a target of 'universal coverage' for commissioning by the end of this year.

Lord Warner said: 'GPs can choose to opt out of practice-based commissioning, we can't force them to do it. But those who opt out will find that when they look around they won't be able to produce services as responsive to patients' needs. The patients will notice that.'

Practice-based commissioning would 'put GPs in the driving seat', he added. And he rejected GPs' claims that many practices could be denied rewards by their PCT. Only trusts in 'dire financial straits', such as those needing turnaround teams, could retain the money.

'This is not to be used as an excuse by PCTs to curtail the freedoms for GPs. It will be pretty clear locally what is happening.'

Lord Warner said GPs would be both provider and commissioner of services and there would be a 'light touch approach' to potential conflicts of interest.

He said: 'We're proceeding on the basis of trust with the profession ­ there will be many things GPs can both commission and provide.'

Lord Warner hoped practices would view commissioning positively rather than the only way to fend off private competition.

GPs would not be forced to put large contracts out to tender, he added. Instead they should 'test the water' with providers to ensure patients got the best services and best value for money.

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