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Burnham renews call for boundary abolition

14 December 2011

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Now is the time to abolish practice boundaries for good, said Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham.

Speaking exclusively to MiP, Burnham said he was “disappointed” when the government shied away from fully opening up practice boundaries in the 2012/13 GP contract, published last month.

“We should allow people the opportunity to choose the practice that suits them best and we should be moving at a quicker pace to ensure this happens,” he said.

“I can’t see any good reason why total practice boundary abolition shouldn’t happen.”

He told MiP while he understood the technical and operational concerns GPs hold; he claimed they are largely being used to “fudge the issue”.

“You either agree with the reform or you don’t and as a principle, practice boundary abolition is unanswerable.”

Burnham said it is “possible” the government has relaxed its stance on practice boundaries in a bid to avoid further GP criticism as its controversial Health Bill makes it way through Parliament, but “hopes it is not the case”.

“The Government’s intention is and always has been to give patients far greater choice over which GP practice they can register with,” a spokesperson from the Department of Health told MiP.

“For those patients wishing to register with a practice further away from where they live, professional groups have consistently voiced concerns about the delivery of care for such patients, particularly around the impact on commissioning arrangements and on more vulnerable patients if they live away from the practice.  

“We have listened carefully to those concerns, and we will therefore be piloting GP choice in three areas, where patients, such as commuters, will be able to access a GP practice away from where they live. The pilots will inform and strengthen the proposals before we look at wider implementation.”

Last month’s GP contract confirmed practice boundaries will stay but “outer boundaries” will be created to allow patients to remain in their current practice, even after they have moved home.

Dr Richard Vautrey, Deputy Chairman of the BMA’s GP Committee, previously told MiP of his fears over practice boundary abolition, claiming the “superficially attractive” reform will lead to higher costs for the NHS.

“If large numbers of commuters are coerced into registering at a GP near their workplace, this could potentially have huge implications for the practices they leave behind,” said Vautrey.

“If you end up with skewed lists, this will result in destabilising general practices in local areas.”