In recent weeks there has been a spate of articles in the press critical of the amounts being paid to GPs.
From the similarity of these articles, including the repetition of the same incorrect figures, it appears that there is a government-inspired campaign against us. Then secretary of state Patricia Hewitt weighed in by suggesting that GP profits (that is, our personal incomes) should have been capped.
We have all done better under the new contract; that was what was intended, to restore morale and halt the decline in GP numbers. But we and our staff have also worked harder, delivering the government’s quality targets and improving public health.
We did do better than the government expected, but the extra unbudgeted cost was £140 million, not £300 million as is being claimed. In addition, the figure of £106,000 frequently quoted for average income ignores the fact that we now have to pay an additional 14 per cent superannuation.
Furthermore, we have had to fund pay increases for our staff and increased surgery bills so our own incomes are already starting to fall back.
However the real issue is why does the same government that negotiated the contract — and indeed told doubting GPs to take it or leave it — now wish to claim, less than three years later, that it is costing too much?
GPs are not responsible for the financial problems of the NHS; we deal with 90 per cent of all patient contacts but account for just 10 per cent of the total budget.
We believe that the real purpose of this spin campaign is to soften up public opinion towards the provision of GP services by private companies.
Can such companies run a better, more efficient and more patient-centred service while making sufficient profits to pay their medical staff and satisfy their shareholders?
We would leave customers of privatised rail companies or of former public utilities to decide whether this is likely. Already there have been problems where private companies have taken on out-of-hours services formerly provided by GPs.
We are however happy to take on competition, provided there is a level playing field.
Meanwhile we suggest that the cause of the NHS would be better served if the government stopped denigrating a vital and dedicated part of its workforce.
Dr Eric Rose, Milton Keynes, and 220 GPs. Letter also published in The Times.