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GMC to review private health perk for employees

Exclusive: The GMC is to review its controversial policy of offering staff private medical insurance this year, as the regulator seeks ‘efficiency gains' that would allow it to offer further cuts to GP fees in 2013 and 2014.

The GMC's resources committee is to look specifically at the GMC's policy of offering full-time staff private medical insurance in 2012, after an outcry from GPs over the £280,000 spent on the staff perk.

Alongside routine reviews of staff pay and other benefits such as maternity cover, the GMC said it is looking for ‘further efficiency gains' that would allow it to hand GPs further reductions or freezes in their GMC fees in 2013 and 2014.

In December, Pulse revealed that the GMC was cutting its annual retention fees for GPs for the first time in history. From April 2012 the fee for practising GP partners will drop from £420 to £390.

The GMC's business plan – published this week – raises the possibility of further fee cuts in 2013 and 2014. The plan states: ‘In 2013 and 2014, we will look for ways to achieve further efficiency gains.'

‘This will be key to freezing or further reducing the fees doctors pay to the GMC in the medium term, while ensuring that we continue to deliver a service that effectively protects patients.'

Earlier this month Pulse revealed GMC expenditure on private medical insurance, but a GMC spokesperson said the private medical insurance policy ‘will be reviewed by our resources committee in 2012'.

She said: 'Like many organisations, we offer a range of benefits to attract and retain staff. Since 1997, we have offered private medical insurance and health screens to our staff.'

But GPs said that the regulator's £280,000 outlay on private medical insurance was one area where costs could be cut. Dr Una Duffy, a GP in Luton, said: ‘If the GMC is looking for efficiency savings the private medical insurance seems a perfect place to start.'

‘I would also be in favour of the withdrawal of cartoon series like Dr Julia which seems to be a way of the public voting on how a doctor should deal with ethical dilemmas in a very simplistic way.'

‘We feel as GPs that this is not something that should be put to an "X Factor" type vote. This is part of the professionalism of our job and it is rather insulting to see it from the GMC.'

Dr Brian Fisher, chair of the socialist medical association and a GP in South London, agreed: ‘I think the private medical insurance perk is a challenge to the principle of a state-funded NHS. I certainly wouldn't think it is right. It is not about the cost, it is about the principle in my point of view.'

Writing in Pulse last week Dr Krishna Korlipara, a GP in Bolton and who was a member of GMC Council from 1983 to 2008, said the GMC needed to debate the private medical insurance perk at an open council meeting.

‘An open debate is essential for continued confidence in the GMC,' Dr Korlipara wrote.

The GMC said that the private medical insurance benefit had been offered to senior staff in 1996 but was extended to all members of staff from 1997 onwards. Until a review has taken place, the GMC will continue to offer the benefit to incoming staff.

The regulator is currently recruiting for four posts and its budget forecasts an increase of £1m in staff costs in 2012 from 2011 levels.