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GPs need protection against conflicts of interest, say legal experts

Medical defence experts have called on CCGs to strengthen their governance structures to avoid their GP members being accused of having conflicting interests, after a survey showed this is was a major concern for almost two-thirds of the profession.

The Medical Protection Society survey of over 1,000 GPs and practice managers found 59% were concerned over conflicts of interest with regards to the introduction of CCGs, while eight-in-10 were worried about the impact of CCG budgets and two-thirds about time constraints.

The MPS said CCGs must put in place ‘clear and robust’ governance structures and processes to ensure that both perceived and actual conflicts are dealt with in an open way to ‘protect the patient-doctor relationship’.

MPS medicolegal adviser Dr Richard Stacey said: ‘MPS has always had concerns that CCGs could place GPs in a potentially challenging position of being not just the patient advocate but also the budget holder and we believe this leaves GPs vulnerable to accusations of conflicting interests.

‘We have received a number of calls from members expressing these same concerns for the last few months and this survey not only confirms MPS’s fears but those of GPs and practice managers.’

It comes as the BMA warned that any GP who had financial interests in a private sector company who might be awarded a contract should ‘consider seriously whether they should be a member of a CCG governing body’.

A BMA spokesperson said: ‘The BMA has a long track record of supporting the principles behind greater clinician involvement in commissioning as if it is done properly it could present real benefits to patients. But this must not be done in a way that compromises the relationship between doctors and their patients.’

In December, a Pulse investigation revealed that more than one in five CCG board members have financial interests in private healthcare providers exposing them to multiple possible conflicts of interest when commissioning services. The analysis of nearly 900 CCG board members’ registered interests shows that 23% were directors, owners, partners or shareholders in private healthcare providers, or have a family member with an interest in a private healthcare provider.

Readers' comments (1)

  • There are far more fundamental conflict of interest issues for every single GP partner, not just those who might have shares in other organisations. Our practices are now the compulsory members of the statutory rationing, cost-cutting and privatising bodies. As well as the conflict whenever CCGs award any community services to their own practices ( which will now be the only mechanism by which general practice will be able to attract additional funding-there is no hope of this happening through our core contracts) the CCGs, of which all practices are now forced to be the constituent members have a legal duty to stay in budget. This means there is an inherent and untenable conflict iof interest between our professional responsibilities to our patients and our statutory duties to our CCG. We should never have been placed in this position and it threatens both the trust our patients have in us and the very integrity of general practice. When it comes to trust, more often than not it is the perception, not the reality that counts. Our relationships wth our patients risk being irrevocably damaged.

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