DoH pushes for extended opening

LMCs Conference 2006

Lord Warner pushes access, NHS data spine boycott and star ratings

Practices will have to extend opening times to meet demand, health minister Lord Warner told the LMCs conference last week in the first ever speech at the event by a minister.

Working patterns in society have changed and 'must change for all of us', he said. Some practices already offered extended opening times, and many were wanting to move in this direction, he added to hoots of derision from delegates.

'I believe there is more scope for innovation here,' Lord Warner said.

He also said that implementation of the electronic care record system would be speeded up through the creation of a new task force. He admitted progress with the record system had been slow and pledged that the first patient records would be uploaded in early 2007, with a date to be announced soon.

Despite a DoH statement last week that it was 'premature' to talk of its involvement in a scheme devised by the RCGP that would rate practices on a three-point scale, Lord Warner admitted he had discussed it.

'I acknowledge having had meetings with the RCGP about their accreditation scheme,' he said. But he denied it was an 'embryonic star rating scheme'.

GPs welcomed a pledge from Lord Warner to tell PCTs that support for practice-based commissioning was 'non-negotiable'.

'The answer to those PCTs that claim they cannot afford it is that they cannot afford not to do it,' he told the conference.

He also pledged to make sure that competition with the private sector for primary care services was on a level playing field.

But the view from LMC representatives was that his speech was 'patronising' and that he had not come to listen.

Despite polite applause and little heckling, at one point he told the conference: 'You really must learn to let people finish their sentences.'

After the conference Avon LMC chief executive Steve Mercer said: 'GPs thought he was patronising and insulting. His speech seemed to say: "I have a vision and that is how it's going to be." He didn't come to listen.'

West Hampshire LMC chairman Dr John Dracass added that he was not convinced by the minister's plans to speed up IT development.

Lord Warner said that an editorial in the Financial Times on 2 June had challenged the profession to resolve differences with Connecting for Health over how patient records should work quickly. He said: 'I hope the profession will respond.'

But Dr Dracass said GPs had already made their position clear: 'We have said records should only be included with patients' consent - I'm not sure a new task force will make any difference.'

Over longer opening hours, he added: 'GPs are not the slightest bit enamoured of longer opening hours - any changes will have to be voluntary and paid for.'

GPs were also angry that Lord Warner spoke for longer than his allotted slot, only leaving time to answer six or seven questions out of the 40 submitted.

nick.bostock@haynet.com

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Lord Warner wants practices to extend opening times to meet patient demand.

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