Hewitt defends GMS pay freeze

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt has rejected claims that GP services are being cut after consecutive GP pay freezes.

Last week the health secretary announced that the NHS in England had finished the year more than £510 million under budget.

But the news comes as a bitter pill for front-line staff, including GPs, who say the savings are being made at the expense of practice income and patient care.

In April the GPC issued a six-point recovery to practices smarting under a 6 per cent real-terms income drop for 2007/8, including work they could stop doing (GP, 13 April).

Ms Hewitt had staked her future on returning the NHS to financial balance and aggressive money-saving tactics included the cull of 8,000 jobs and consecutive freezes on GMS income.

Speaking last week after the official announcement of the savings, Ms Hewitt told GP: 'I know that your newspaper is speaking for GPs but I don't think it's true to say low morale and despondency exists in most practices.

'I understand the disappointment of some front-line NHS staff but it had nothing to do with NHS finances and everything to do with the state of the economy. That was the basis of the decision this year to freeze all pay.'

She added that more money than ever was being pumped into the health service and dismissed as 'ridiculous' claims that services were being cut.

Claims that practice-based commissioning (PBC) is more apparent than real and has served only to make a human shield of GPs in the public firing line are rubbish, she said.

'I reject wholeheartedly the idea that there have been damaging service cuts,' she said. 'There is a huge amount of growth in general practice and PBC is one of the great opportunities for front-line staff to shape local services, and there are a lot of GPs who are up for it, but it will take time.'

NHS chief executive David Nicholson said: 'We have been determined to get this right throughout the year but we have not finished the journey.

We have done what we set out to do, which was to achieve financial stability and reduce the number of organisations in deficit. The lesson we have learnt is that it is possible to reduce costs without cutting quality of services.'

Only two of the 10 SHAs, East of England and South East Coast, ended the year in the red.

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