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GPC calls on Lansley to drop health bill and open talks on ‘sensible alternative’

The GPC has called on the Government to withdraw the health bill and begin drawing up a ‘sensible alternative’ that would maintain GP commissioning without the need for legislation in Parliament.

As revealed by Pulse yesterday, GPC chair  Dr Laurence Buckman is today writing to the profession arguing the health bill would be ‘irreversibly damaging’ to the NHS and is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

(Read the full letter here).

His letter confirms that the GPC, the national representative committee for all GPs, is now opposed to the bill. The BMA’s previous call for the bill to be scrapped was made after a vote by BMA Council – which technically only covers doctors who are members of the union.

The GPC made the move after GPC members passed an eight-point motion setting out its opposition (see below).

In the letter, Dr Buckman says:‘We call on the coalition government to work with us to develop an alternative way forward: put GPs into the driving seat of PCTs, even if they are now clustered, drop the unwise attempt to force competition on to the NHS; reform the NHS so clinical need not commercial interest is paramount. None of this requires a bill.’

Hinting that the GPC could call on GPs to disengage with commissioning in the future, Dr Buckman said that ‘at this stage, we are not advocating that colleagues in CCGs walk away from the process and we recognise it would not be reasonable to remove the new structures that are now in place’. He added that the GPC will continue to issue advice to support GP commissioners.

The GPC’s call for the health bill to be dropped, which has been shrouded in secrecysince the committee met on Tuesday, was described by one member as ‘a massive step’, given the GPC’s support for the principal of clinical commissioning and its representative role for all GPs rather than simply BMA members.

Dr Helena McKeown, a GPC member and a GP in Salisbury, told Pulse: ‘This is a massive step. GPC is a part of the BMA but we have not specifically called for withdrawal of the bill until now.’

‘We represent commissioning GPs and feel that clinical commissioning is a good thing – we stayed at the table in terms of trying to modify the most destructive elements of the bill as far as possible.’

‘We tried to play this fine line, more [so] even than the BMA itself, in terms of our role in clinical commissioning and it has got us nowhere.’

Dr McKeown warned that the NHS reforms were ‘dangerous’ for both GP commissioners and grassroots GPs.

‘It is important that we are coming out with a clear statement that even at this late stage a modified bill would be dangerous to our GP commissioners, because it puts them in a very difficult place if they run out of budget and it will destroy doctor-patient trust.

‘It is dangerous to all of us as GPs and we are all going to have to take part contractually in CCGs,’ she said.

The GPC motion in full:

That the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, which represents all GPs in the UK:

1.     Formally reaffirms its opposition to the NHS Health and Social Care Bill;

2.     Believes that if passed the Bill will be irreversibly damaging to the NHS as a public service, converting it into a competitive marketplace that will widen health inequalities and be detrimental to patient care;

3.     Believes the Bill will compromise the role of GPs, and could cause irreparable damage to the relationship between GPs and their patients;

4.     Believes the Bill to be complex, incoherent and not fit for purpose, and almost impossible to implement successfully, given widespread opposition across the NHS workforce;

5.     Believes that passing the Bill will be an irresponsible waste of taxpayers’ money, which will be spent on unnecessary reorganisation rather than on patient care, as well as increasing the running costs of the NHS from the processes of competition, and transaction costs;

6.     Believes that GPs’ participation in CCGs does not equate to support for the Bill, but that GPs are there to defend their patients’ interests and mitigate the adverse impact of the Bill;

7.     Supports clinically led commissioning believing this will lead to improvements in patient care in the NHS, and believes this can be more effectively achieved within existing legislation;

8.     Calls upon the coalition government to withdraw the Bill and instead enter into productive dialogue with the BMA to agree a way forward for clinically-led commissioning.