This site is intended for health professionals only

GPs’ independent status may change under Labour, says Burnham

GPs’ independent contractor status could be reviewed if the Labour Party wins at the next election, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has suggested.

Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference in Liverpool today, Mr Burnham said that the traditional ’boundaries’ between primary and secondary care must be broken down and GPs would have to be ‘open’ to modifying their independent contractor status.

Mr Burnham said that the time had come to shift health professionals’ loyalties from ‘organisations, buildings, or professions’ and instead focus on the local population.

He told the conference: ‘There are of course implications here for professional practice and medical training.’

‘After decades of focus on specialisation, the time has come for a new emphasis on generalist care, on generalism. And I see the need for a new generation of generalist doctors and physicians, working in our communities. Not pigeonholed as a primary care generalist, or a hospital generalist.’

‘But working across the boundaries, and yes that might mean being open about changes to independent contractor status for GPs.’

Former chair of the RCGP Professor Clare Gerada caused controversy last year with her suggestion that GPs should relinquish their independent contractor status.

But GPs reacted overwhelmingly against the suggestion, including her successor at the college, Dr Maureen Baker, who said that independent contractor status was ‘very helpful’ for GPs, while the GPC said moving to such a model could ‘emasculate’ the profession.

A survey of GPs after Professor Gerada’s suggestion revealed that three-quarters were against such a move.

GP leaders have said the debate over independent contractor status was a ‘red herring’ and that the secretary of state should focus on bringing hospital consultants into the community.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘The reality is that you don’t want to get bogged down into changes to the GP contract, to improve the way GPs and specialists collaborate with one another. ‘

‘I think we run the risk of losing the impetus around engaging and collaborating if we start to focus with GPs on organisational structure.’

He added: ‘The thing preventing [consultants from working more closely in the community] are the barriers. Often the ones management puts in place because they’re fearful that by developing community based services, they’re in some way undermining their own core business.’

‘It’s about competition between providers, and it needs to be overcome. The independent contractor status is a red herring as far as that’s concerned.’

The Labour Party proposed re-introducing a 48-hour target for GP appointments last month, which Mr Burnham told Pulse could be made a contractual requirement.