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25-03-2013 | Article

New contract – more bureaucracy

In these tough, austere economic times when many people are job hunting and others are struggling to balance the books, it seems churlish that well-paid doctors are complaining about their contract.

But what might be seen by the general public as disagreements over money, are more about ensuring the efficient use of GPs so that they can be in the front line seeing and attending to patients.

We now have a new contractual climate, like it or not, and it is going to be tough times ahead for primary care. Without doubt, we are going to have to do more just to stand still financially and the work load may cause some practices great difficulty. However, our representatives and the government don't seem to be able to agree on some aspects of the GP contract, which was clear in a recent Univadis Medical News story (click here). The comments made by leaders from each side were poles apart.

According to the article, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted the changes are to the benefit of patients. He said: "Improving care for patients has always been my priority. The GP contract needs to change to make sure the excellent care enjoyed by some patients is more consistent across the country." Not surprisingly, the BMA GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman had an opposing view: "Practices will face numerous new targets that will divert valuable clinical time and resources towards box ticking and administrative work."

I agree with the BMA on this one and suspect that the proposed changes may mean many GPs, especially those with retirement plans on the horizon, simply call it a day earlier than planned or drop hours and go part-time. My worry is whether there are sufficient numbers of up and coming newly trained GPs to plug the gap, otherwise there could be a manpower shortage. If that happens and a recruitment crisis develops, then the government will to have to act quickly to make general practice more attractive again.

Just like the economy, primary care could be in a recurrent boom and bust scenario, swinging from being an attractive and well-funded career to one of low morale, recruitment problems and tight budgets. What we don't want is key primary care staff mired in bureaucracy, hunched over computer screens making sure they have ticked the right boxes. If we emphasise this aspect of what we think may come, the public may be more sympathetic to our case.

Harry

Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief Univadis

By Dr Harry Brown