This year’s GP contract negotiations have been constructive and could be concluded ‘within the next few weeks’, the GPC has said.
Deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said that, much unlike last year, it is the ‘aim and intention’ for contract negotiations to conclude as early as possible so that GPs have time to prepare before the new terms are implemented.
The comments come as health minister Earl Howe promised GPs that next year’s contract arrangements would make general practice ‘less cluttered, less burdened’ and would ‘strengthen primary care’, acknowledging that GPs are ‘perhaps under unprecedented pressure’.
Both men were speaking at the ‘Best Practice’ conference in Birmingham, organised by the National Association for Primary Care.
Dr Vautrey said: ‘We would expect some degree of conclusion within the next few weeks. It is the aim and intention of all parties to try to conclude things as soon as possible. From the experience last year, with the imposition, when clarity didn’t really materialise until February or March, we really don’t want to be in that situation again. It is not helpful for either party to have that situation.’
‘We really need to conclude things as swiftly as possible so that you guys can get on with planning for the future.’
Later, speaking to Pulse, Dr Vautrey added: ‘I can’t go into any detail, but they are constructive. It is a different atmosphere from last year, but I think the proof will be in the pudding. We would hope that we can get to an outcome that does help practices to deal with their workload and reduces some of the bureaucracies that have really oppressed practices and which have only got worse in the last year.’
On the hopes for a conclusion within the next few weeks, he added: ‘I think we can always be hopeful. The intention every year is to reach a conclusion as soon as possible in the autumn and winter so that practices can get on and deliver those contract changes and plan for those changes.’
Meanwhile, addressing conference delegates Earl Howe said the Government would look for opportunities to ‘lever in resources’ to primary care though the overall budget is static.
He said: ‘I can tell you that we recognise that if we are going to achieve what we need to do, we need to strengthen primary care. There are a number of ways we can do that, the GP contract is currently under negotiation, but if we can lever in more resources across the totality of primary care then we should look for opportunities to do that.’
But Earl Howe warned GPs the Treasury was also ‘breathing down’ health minister’s backs, with new resources unlikely to be found.
He said: ‘I can tell you that Jeremy Hunt is acutely aware that the current contract is burdensome and he wants to relieve GPs of some of that burden to free up their time to look after the patients in the way that they would wish. That is the direction of travel.’
Earl Howe made controversial comments yesterday accussing GPs of undermining the Government’s choice agenda by keeping appointments ‘as short as possible’ and taking the ‘easiest’ option of sending patients to ‘tried and familiar secondary providers’.
GPs took the opportunity to put the minister on the spot, expressing cynicism that any new contract would improve GPs’ working situation.
Dr Jo Loughton, a GP in Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, took to the stage to say: ‘I doubt the Government has any idea how hard I work. I have been a GP for 22 years and I am quite passionate still about my job despite being pretty pissed off with all of the changes that we have had to tolerate over the years. I am sorry, I am very sceptical and I do not believe that our new contract is going to be good for us. Obviously we have to wait and see but my experience generally is that it just grinds us further into the ground.’
To which Earl Howe responded: ‘Whether you choose to believe me or not, the Government is doing its best to be on the case and I hope and believe you will see, in whatever arrangements come out of contract negotiations, a recognition that we want to make your lives less cluttered and less burdensome and that we want to strengthen primary care. I can go no further than that.’