More GPs to go private?
FEARS were voiced last night that scores of GP practices across Suffolk could go private after bosses scrapped the contract which governs the majority of doctors in the region - and offered them the option of “withdrawing from NHS primary care.
FEARS were voiced last night that scores of GP practices across Suffolk could go private after bosses scrapped the contract which governs the majority of doctors in the region - and offered them the option of “withdrawing from NHS primary care.”
The county's debt-riddled Primary Care Trust has sent out letters to practices across the region signed up to the Personal Medical Services (PMS) Contract, telling them it will be terminated on September 30.
GPs were also told that they must now decide whether to sign a new PMS contract - currently being discussed between the PCT and the Local Medical Committee - return to a General Medical Services (GMS) contract, or “withdraw from NHS primary care”.
But health professionals fear that any new contract will see a substantial drop in money given to them to provide care for patients, and could see doctors across the county tempted to go private.
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The PMS agreement, only introduced a few years ago, pays GPs on the basis of meeting set quality standards and the particular needs of their local population, while the GMS contract is based primarily on the amount of patients treated - and generally sees lower levels of funding.
The current PMS contract is in operation at 46 of the 69 GP practices in the Suffolk PCT area.
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Speaking to the EADT yesterday one Suffolk GP, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “It's all going to come down on the patients. Nobody is happy about it - my fellow GPs are up in arms.
“It's a serious situation. The PMS contract was something that the PCT asked people to sign up to a few years ago - now, because it appears that it costs more than the GMS they want us to go back.
“GPs are seriously considering going private. If they all say we don't want this and the PCT stand firm the whole county will go private - there will be no NHS left.
“They are essentially saying take a cut in funding or go private.”
Dr Paul Thomas, a GP at the Gipping Valley Practice in Barham, is signed up to the GMS contract, but he also spoke of his concern at the move.
“It wouldn't surprise me in the least if it's considered that the PMS contracts are too expensive,” he said.
“I feel very vulnerable that I'm next in line. I strongly suspect that they will come after GMS GPs as well. I feel the NHS is morally and financially bankrupt.”
Dr Janet Massey, secretary of the Suffolk branch of the British Medical Association, said she was “extremely concerned”.
She added: “It doesn't sound very good, saying we'll scrap your contract but won't tell you what the new one is.
“The idea is to have a national health service, not a health service which is fragmented. This is a big blow for Suffolk.”
Dr Massey continued: “The message from the Department of Health is that we should be collaborative and co-operative but I think what the PCT is doing does not look collaborative or co-operative.
“The Department of Health say that everything should revolve around the patient - but that doesn't seem to tally with what they're doing.”
But Melanie Craig, head of performance at Suffolk PCT, said the reason for reviewing PMS contracts was to introduce fairer payments and to make more service improvements for patients.
She said: “The current contracts are not strong on clear targets and this makes it difficult to show real gains from the additional investment, which amounts to around £9million extra across Suffolk.
“We have discussed a new funding system with GPs that ensures fairness across the county where payments are based on the number and needs of patients on the practice register.
“The contract changeover could mean that some practices will gain in extra funding and some may have less growth money than they had before.
“The PCT proposes to phase-in the new payment structure over a three year period so that the change is not destabilising for some GP businesses.”
A PCT spokesman added that it is working closely with GP practices to listen to any concerns they may have and hopes to find a successful conclusion to the contract negotiations.