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Ministers are attempting to charm GPs into submission

By Richard Hoey

The Government knows GPs are deeply sceptical about its NHS reforms, but it is hoping flattery can get it everywhere, says Pulse editor Richard Hoey

There’s nothing quite like flattery for defusing criticism and disarming even the most aggressive of opponents.

It was a trick the last government never really mastered. Health minister Ben Bradshaw laid into GPs for operating ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ over patient registration based, it turned out, on ‘more than 10′ emails of complaint.

Even the perennially charming Alan Johnson claimed some GPs were stuck in 1948 and yet – rather contradictorily – that he ‘couldn’t care less what GP’ he saw when making an appointment.

The current Government isn’t about to make the same mistake. Health secretary Andrew Lansley boasts that he has never made a negative comment about GPs to the media.

Mr Lansley seems to hope that if he is sufficiently and relentlessly enthusiastic about the abilities of GPs, they might just fail to notice the size of the task he is setting them.

And in the past week, the Government has employed the ultimate flattery battering ram – the offer of personal contact with the Prime Minister.

In the past few days alone, David Cameron has hosted a reception for GPs of the early pathfinders, wooed them via a doctors’ website (not this one, unfortuntately) and thrown himself in animated fashion into a breakfast discussion at a GP surgery. Today, Pulse is among a range of publictions invited for a 10 Downing Street reception with the PM.

The background to this frightening barrage of charm is of course the less-than-polite reaction to the Government’s health bill, which has seen large chunks of the medical profession – although by no means all – recoil in alarm.

Pulse revealed before Christmas that the BMA was set to harden its stance against the NHS reforms and in January it has been busy doing just that – culminating in the announcement last week of a Special Representative Meeting.

Dr Clare Gerada, meanwhile, has been continuing to lead the RCGP in a tough line against the reforms too, and in this week’s Pulse strongly rejects the criticism she has received from a minority of GPs that her criticisms are political and unrepresentative of GP opinion.

She has received a fillip this week from a RCGP poll of 1,800 of its members, which suggests they in general share her suspicion of the Government’s plans, with over 60% opposing their overall thrust.

Up to now, the Government has contorted itself into some awkward-looking positions in order to claim it continues to attract widespread support among GPs, while avoiding criticising those who are not among its admirers.

You have to imagine though that at some point the reservoir of positivity and good manners must run dry.

Flattery can get you pretty much anywhere. But can it persuade GPs that they really do buy into the radically new roles set out for them under commissioning?

And if it can’t, will David Cameron and Andrew Lansley display teeth beneath their smiles?

Richard Hoey is editor of Pulse.

Richard Hoey, Pulse editor