24-hour opt-out 'let down the GMS contract'

Labour Party Conference 2008 - Ben Bradshaw laments out-of-hours deal.

Allowing the opt-out from out-of-hours care was the biggest problem with the GMS contract, Ben Bradshaw has said.

During a Question Time-style debate at Labour's conference this week, the health minister said he was proud of the pay increase the 2004 contract represented. 'When Labour came in we had underpaid doctors and nurses. We're now rewarding them justly for what they do.'

But he added that: 'If there was one niggle with the contract, it was the way it allowed GPs to opt out of providing out-of-hours care.' Policies that encouraged extended hours opening were partly intended to address this issue, he said.

Although Mr Bradshaw praised the contract, the debate still saw a spat with the BMA about the government's negotiating tactics.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chair of the consultants' committee, said that the profession had 'suffered from the (government's) antagonistic views' and its 'attacks on doctors over contracts we signed'.

The minister angrily retorted that the new contract had 'delivered a trebling of GP earnings from £45,000 to £120,000'.

The event also heard calls for the abolition of prescription charges, and a debate on the merits of top-up payments.

Dr Fielden described top-ups as a 'Pandora's box' and warned the debate had been skewed by focusing on drugs. 'What if your GP says you should get physio, but it isn't bad enough to get it on the NHS? That's a top-up, too.'

But he called for the DoH to extend the length of drug patents. This would encourage pharmaceutical companies to cut drug prices by spreading research costs over a longer period, he said.

jonn.elledge@haymarket.com

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