Lansley in practice boundary U-turn

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has performed a U-turn on plans to abolish practice boundaries in April 2012.

Andrew Lansley: 'I'm not abolishing practice boundaries. I'm intending to extend patient choice. We've got to look at how this works' (Photograph: B Stephenson)

The DoH had been expected to press ahead with the change despite warnings that it could put vulnerable patients at risk, force rural practices to close and undermine home visits.

Summing up after a 15-minute speech by Mr Lansley at the RCGP annual conference in Liverpool last week, RCGP chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada said his comments confirmed that 'only in exceptional circumstances will we be mandated to open up our GP boundaries'.

Mr Lansley said later: 'I'm not abolishing practice boundaries. I'm intending to extend patient choice. We've got to look at how this works.'

His claim that current rules were inconvenient for 'thousands of people' with second homes sparked laughter from delegates.

But he added: 'The last government's proposals didn't take account of the practicalities. We need to think carefully about how we manage home visiting and how patients who don't live locally to their practice can receive urgent care and how information is shared.

'We will make sure this is done in a way that preserves the responsibility of clinical commissioning groups for the health of their local population.'

Mr Lansley had been met by a group of about 40 protesters outside the venue singing songs opposing the Health Bill.

The health secretary prolonged his Q&A session from 20 to 45 minutes as GP after GP stood at the microphones to oppose the Health Bill. One GP spoke in favour.

Dr Gerada highlighted four 'very positive' points from his speech. In addition to the U-turn on boundaries, she noted:

  • Enhanced GP training would be supported.
  • Any qualified provider would be rolled out in a 'controlled way'.
  • The health secretary would retain responsibility for the NHS.

Mr Lansley was forced to deny that the Health Bill would privatise the NHS under questioning from GPs.

Dr Angela Burnett, a GP in Hackney, east London, said: 'I have grave concerns about increasing privatisation. It's a mistake to move closer to a US model which is the most expensive and most unequal healthcare system in the world.'

Surrey GP Dr Pete Deveson said: 'Mr Lansley repeatedly says that he is not privatising the NHS but what is his definition of privatisation?' He envisaged the introduction of co-payments for treatment and insurance under the Bill.

Oxford GP Dr Duncan Keeley said: 'Many GPs still think that the changes proposed in the Health Bill are damaging to the NHS. The Bill should be withdrawn.'

Mr Lansley said: 'The Health Bill does not allow for private organisations to become responsible for the whole of commissioning. If you ask the public they would say privatisation meant paying for services and that's not what we're proposing. Will we have more private providers than we do now? I don't know.'

Dr Gerada argued that the Bill allowed for more privatisation because more money would move into the for-profit sector.

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