Editorial: GP unity needed to end call outsourcing threat

Have you ever called a company's customer service line to be met with automated, press-button options and inane hold music?

Of course you have. The centralised call centre is one of the curses of modern society, seemingly designed to send BP soaring.

Well, GP newspaper's website Healthcare Republic reported last week that the Foundation Trust Network believes £600 million could be saved by reorganising how NHS management and provider organisations share administrative staff.

Will this mean that GPs will be forced to make receptionists redundant, while call centre staff hundreds of miles away book appointments?

Patients may complain about how long they have to wait to get through to a practice on a winter's morning but surely this will be as nothing when compared with the 'efficiencies' of a nationalised GP appointments service.

Consider the record of that other model of nationalised efficiency NHS Direct - cost: £123 million; result: almost a quarter of its work transferred on to GPs.

Reading the DoH-commissioned Foundation Trust Network report, this is far from a foregone conclusion. It recommends that the DoH should complete its review of the issue by April 2011.

Although clinical engagement is stressed as key by author Tony Spotswood, chief executive of Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals in Dorset, his intent is clear with the phrase 'this system should be radically re-engineered'.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley will, of course, point out that the final decisions are to be made locally involving clinicians.

GPs are independent contractors and should not be dictated to by politicians in Whitehall. Unfortunately, it could be that the coalition government is banking on consortia putting pressure on practices to agree to such outsourcing.

Perhaps this is the moment where GPs draw a line in the sand, emphasise Mr Lansley's 'no decision about me, without me' catchphrase and unite to oppose such plans.

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