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Blame the local NHS not GPs, says family doctors’ leader

14 March 2007

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Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) GPs Committee, commenting on the Public Accounts Committee report on out-of-hours care, said:

“We would confirm the committee’s findings that the quality of many out-of-hours services leaves a lot to be desired. We have commented about this both nationally and locally. However, we would reject the implication that GPs were the only ones to do well out of this deal and that the government was not really involved. The Departments of Health in the UK were fully aware at all stages of the negotiations about the opt-out price. This negotiation was part of the package and it was never intended that the price for handing over responsibility for out-of-hours would match that of reproviding the service. Additional money from the out-of-hours development fund was given to primary care organisations for providing the service and in addition to this, in England, they were given a further £120m. All of this just goes to show how much GPs had been subsidising the NHS by providing out-of-hours services at way-below cost price.

“Family doctors had been taken advantage of for years, working long hours on the cheap. When, with the full agreement of the government, primary care organisations took over responsibility for providing the out-of-hours service and in some places failed to make a good job of it, they try to blame the GPs. It’s not right and it’s not acceptable. We want patients to have high quality, safe services round the clock, staffed by doctors who are not worn out from having done a full day’s work before they start an evening or weekend shift. The old system couldn’t continue. Now it’s up to the local NHS to make sure they provide a proper service for local patients and to take the rap if they fall short.”