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RCGP to ‘face both ways’ on health bill as Gerada defends shift in stance

The RCGP has adopted a new ‘pragmatic' stance on the health bill and is willing to reopen talks with the Government on how best to implement GP commissioning on the ground, college chair Dr Clare Gerada has told Pulse.

Dr Gerada said the college must now be willing to ‘face both ways' on the bill, with the legislation now looking increasingly likely to become law within weeks.

Dr Gerada has been an outspoken critic of the NHS reforms ever since she warned they risked ‘deprofessionalising' GPs just before taking over as chair, and last month the RCGP became the first medical college to call for the bill to be withdrawn.

But Dr Gerada last week offered an olive branch to Prime Minister David Cameron, claiming the time had come ‘to restate our similarities rather than continuously focus on our differences'.

In her letter to Mr Cameron, Dr Gerada said the college was now keen to be involved in talks over the formulation of the ‘NHS mandate' given to the NHS Commissioning Board every year, and over how the bill's clause on patient choice and competition is implemented. The letter was described as a shift to ‘constructive engagement' by former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston, now a Conservative MP, but the Department of Health refused to confirm if the RCGP would be involved in talks.

Dr Gerada told Pulse there was ‘no contradiction' in having two approaches to the health bill and that ‘whatever happens, we will engage', adding: ‘You can be opposed but pragmatic. We have to face both ways. We have to do our best to ensure that commissioning works.'

Dr Gerada said she now wanted to focus on ‘provider reform', including empowering GPs to challenge clinical commissioning groups on service redesign.

‘[GPs should] scrutinise what CCGs are doing and ask: is that going to help patients or is it just fancy stuff?' she said.

Dr Kambiz Boomla, chair of City and East London LMC, said: ‘Given that the coalition seem very determined to put this onto the statute book, those of us who oppose it are going to have to look through whatever mess we end up with and try and make sense of it.'

But Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association said: ‘What the RCGP does and says is a mystery to me. As a very important player in general practice, it would be nice to see some consistency. Otherwise, it is difficult for members of the college to know when to go to the barricades.'