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GPs reluctantly agree to extend hours

Published on 07/03/08 at 01:40pm

General practitioners across the UK have voted to accept new working hours that will see surgeries open on Saturday mornings and after 6.30pm on weekdays.

But doctors' association the BMA has made it very clear that GPs in most parts of the country are unhappy with the new arrangements, which force them to offer the longer hours in order to maintain their current income levels.

Commenting on the poll results Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's GP Committee in England, said its members felt the negotiation showed the government to be bullying and micromanaging doctors.

"Let me emphasise that a majority of GPs were and remain willing to provide extended hours surgeries. However, GPs believe they are being railroaded into an unrealistic vision of extended hours.

"They believe it is at the expense of improvements in clinical care and they think the offer, in its present form, means patients will not get the level and flexibility of service in extended hours that they both expect and deserve."

He concluded that it was nevertheless 'time draw a line' under the damaging row and pledged that the BMA would work towards a practical implementation of the agreement.

England's PCTs will agree on extended opening hours arrangements with practices after conducting patient surveys, but priority will be given to Saturday morning opening until then.

A different picture in Northern Ireland

In contrast to the bitterness felt by GPs in England, Wales and Scotland over their new contracts, doctors in Northern Ireland are happy with their new deal.

The province's general practitioners had a very different choice to the rest of the UK, given the option to either extend opening hours or to take on extra work currently being done in hospitals.

The GPs voted overwhelmingly for the latter, and will now lead the care of patients with osteoporosis, peripheral arterial disease and heart failure.

Dr Brian Dunn, chairman of the Northern Ireland's BMA general practice committee, said: "We are pleased with the result of this poll because it will mean that patients who are the most sick, i.e. the older and chronically ill, will find it easier to be treated locally rather than having to travel outside their communities.

"Rather than inject money into the pursuit of GP surgeries opening for an extra couple of hours a week, [Northern Ireland] very sensibly took the decision to put the money into frontline patient clinical care instead."

GPs in Northern Ireland have already taken on a substantial amount of work from the secondary care sector. Long term conditions, such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypertension, are all now treated and monitored within primary care.

Dr Dunn concluded by saying there was no evidence that extending opening hours improving care, but said Health Boards could commission longer hours should the need arise.

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