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UK-wide GP contract to end next year as devolved nations go it alone in 2014 talks

Exclusive: The GP contract will no longer be negotiated on a UK-wide basis, with the devolved nations conducting separate talks with their respective governments on the 2014 contract deal, Pulse has learnt.

For the first time NHS Employers will not conduct UK-wide negotiations with the GPC, and will instead only negotiate terms for English GPs, as well as QOF terms for GPs in Wales. Entirely separate deals will be negotiated for Scottish and Northern Irish GPs.

The landmark decision follows an increasing divergence in the four nations’ contract settlements, but still comes as a surprise given the GPC’s determination to continue with UK-wide negotiations. The devolved nations have traditionally only made subsequent tweaks to a concluded UK-wide deal, and Scottish LMCs rubberstamped a policy to continue UK-wide negotiations at their annual conference earlier this year.

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘It is not a UK negotiation as usual.’

An NHS Employers spokespersons said: ‘From April 2013, NHS Employers negotiates changes to the GMS contract on behalf of NHS England.’

‘In previous years such discussions have been conducted at a UK level for the majority of changes.’

‘Currently, NHS Employers are negotiating possible changes to the GMS contract for 2014/15 on behalf of NHS England and have also been mandated by the Welsh Government to discuss some elements relating to the QOF on their behalf.’

In the 2013 contract talks, GPs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all achieved different negotiated settlements and avoided many of the more challenging terms imposed on English GPs.

But the GPC has repeatedly warned against a break-up of the UK contract, claiming that unity among the four nations has enabled GPs to negotiate a better deal. It has also warned against the devolved nations conducting their own wholesale renegotiation of contract terms, with former GPC Scotland chair Dr Dean Marshall claiming last year that such a move would be ‘suicidal’.

Northern Irish GPC chair Dr Tom Black said separate talks for GPs in Northern Ireland would begin next Monday.

‘We will be looking for a reduction in the QOF indicators to free up time for GPs to care for the frail elderly,’ he said.

Dr Charlotte Jones, chair of GPC Wales, said: ‘It is up to the governments themselves to mandate who they want to negotiate the contract.’

‘The Welsh Government made the decision to mandate NHS Employers to negotiate full clinical QOF only, which allows us to then explore other mechanisms that are more flexible for Welsh needs.’

Scottish GPC chair Dr Alan McDevitt said that contract discussions in the four countries would continue to be influenced by one another even though there will be no UK-wide negotiation.

He said: ‘It is a cross fertilisation, you could say, of the discussions in the four countries but there isn’t a formal UK-based negotiation. We have always wanted to maintain a UK contract and there still will be, because the vast majority will be the same, but clearly there is a drifting apart of the four nations of the actual style, format and content of the contract.’

‘In Scotland, we had a principle from last year that we wanted as little change as possible for one year because people are burdened by the constant flux in the contracts. That is part of the reason, I think, why the Scottish Government didn’t want to commission NHS Employers in England to negotiate a whole lot more change.’