Exclusive - GPC fears rising private sector threat

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman believes more GPs could be forced to 'sell out' to private companies this year.

Speaking exclusively to GP in a video interview about challenges for the profession in 2011, he said financial pressures would increasingly force GPs to consider buyout offers. GPs will also face unprecedented pressure to buy services from the private sector as commissioners, he warned.

Speaking about the rise of large firms holding multiple GP contracts, Dr Buckman said: 'It's something we always envisaged might happen but we hoped wouldn't - that people would sell out to the private sector.

'We are in a fluid situation, economically very tight, and I can see why practices would take a decision that I would not wish to encourage.' He said as GPs start to commission they will face 'enormous pressure' to outsource 'some, or all, of their work' to the private sector.

'It will be very tempting if someone says they can do this for a twentieth of what the PCT has done it for - they'd be mad not to consider it. But I would hope they would regard the NHS as the best provider of advice and support for them.'

Responding to calls from some GPs for the BMA to put up more resistance to NHS reforms, Dr Buckman admitted he did feel pressure.

'There are doctors and GPs who don't like what's going on, nor do other unions and plenty of NHS managers. Of course there is a pressure to say we don't like something. But not liking a proposed government change isn't going to make it go away, particularly where other potential governments have similar plans.'

Dr Buckman said the upcoming Health Bill would get a 'mauling' in parliament and the BMA's 'powerful lobbying unit' will be 'pushing it in the direction we want it to go'.

Despite GPs having 'an awful lot to contend with' in 2011, he believes commissioning will remain 'a side function' for most of the profession.

'If you wake up and think "I'm a GP commissioner" you probably are running the NHS rather than being a GP,' he said.

The GPC may also call for a pay uplift this year to cover expenses despite the DoH imposing a two-year pay freeze.

Dr Buckman said the Celtic nations will face a pay freeze, and predicted GP commissioning would become policy there too, albeit 'without a market'.

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