The GPC switch appears to be a lame duck

he GPC has been very insistent on one thing over the past few days: its resolution over the DoH deal on the GMS contract is 'neither a climbdown nor a U-turn'.

Unfortunately, as the GPC leadership should know by now, appearances are everything when you take on the DoH, especially if you are playing out the battle in the full media spotlight.

The problem is that old measure that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you are pretty well going to be certain it is a duck.

At the beginning of last week, every news programme and paper featured a GPC negotiator explaining why the extended hours plan was a disaster and that GPs were not going to be forced into carrying out unpaid work.

Meanwhile health ministers, and Ben Bradshaw in particular, were explaining that the GPC was out of touch with the profession as a whole. In this paper we defended the GPC with the support of our poll showing two thirds of GPs wanted to reject the contract offer.

Then on Thursday a long and apparently tortuous GPC meeting eventually arrived at the following resolution: 'The GPC has come to the conclusion that Option A is less damaging for general practice, because the alternative option will harm the underlying fabric of NHS general practice and patient care more quickly and more lastingly.'

Inspected closely, this statement says nothing new and does not actually tell doctors to support the DoH deal. Unfortunately, at first glance the statement appears to be paddling to the centre of the pond and sticking its tail feathers in the air.

Coming so closely on the heels of the vehement rejections of the plan, the end result has been national headlines such as the one in The Times: 'GPs back down on surgery opening hours'.

The appearance is one of weakness - a battling band of doctors ready to take on the government reduced suddenly to saying 'Oh well, it could be worse ...'

Yes, it appears from our interview with Mr Bradshaw that there might be some local flexibility on extended hours, but the GPC and LMCs still need to be operating from a position of strength so that any local deals are workable and appropriate.

Friday's statement does not give any impression of that strength, however much the BMA tries to play it down.

Judging by the reaction on GP's online forums and elsewhere, doctors feel like they have had the rug pulled out from under them over the past few days, and many are asking why they should continue to fight the DoH on this issue.

What started as an attempt at leadership has backfired so badly that GPs may feel like ducklings paraded before a ravenous DoH cat.

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