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Extended hours cash under threat

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: GPC negotiators are locked in talks with ministers over the future of payment for extended opening hours, as ministers weigh up whether to scrap central funding for evening and weekend surgeries from this April.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman told Pulse that extended hours funding is a key component of the ongoing negotiations over this year's contractual settlement, which are expected to conclude in the next few weeks.

The Department of Health said it is ‘considering options' on what to do with the DES funding, leaving open the possibility that all central funding could be removed. Around £158m of existing GP funding was transferred to the extended access DES when it was created in 2008.

The news comes after Pulse revealed last August that over half of PCTs were considering withdrawing local funding in light of the Government's scrapping of national access targets.

If both central and local funding were removed, GPs would be left with the unenviable choice of either stopping offering patients evening and weekend surgeries, or continuing to run shifts without additional resources.

And in a thinly veiled negotiating threat, Dr Buckman warned ministers that GPs would not continue to provide extended hours unless they are funded to do so, and said it was essential that either the national DES or LESs were available.

A Pulse survey of 350 GPs conducted last year found that almost two-thirds who were currently offering extended hours would plan to stop this year if funding was removed.

Dr Buckman said: ‘GPs absolutely should not be doing any work for which they are not paid. If a LES has been working effectively, now is not a good time to stop it. You don't improve the infrastructure of the health service by doing that.'

Dr Buckman said negotiations over this year's contract had proved particularly challenging because of the Treasury's demands for a tight financial ship.

‘At this stage, [the extended hours DES] is part of the contract negotiations,' he said. ‘But even when negotiations are concluded, plenty can happen. The Treasury has always been an issue, they are certainly an issue now. The present situation hasn't made it any easier.'

A Department of Health said it had yet to decide whether to renew the current DES, which expires on 31 March 2011.

A DH spokesperson said: ‘The Department is considering options for how it can best support extended GP hours in the future.'

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