The New Forest Central Medical Group has instructed solicitors to take the first steps in challenging part 19 of the standard GMS (and its PMS equivalent) contract, which currently prevents GPs from charging patients for all but a handful of services, such as travel vaccines.
The challenge could put GPs in the same position as NHS consultants, dentists or pharmacists - who can charge their NHS patients for treatments over and above those provided by the health service.
Although GPs are currently allowed to offer services privately, they are not allowed to do so to patients that are on their registered practice list - meaning patients must be sent elsewhere for treatments such as private vaccinations or cosmetic procedures.
The GPC has voiced support for the challenge, saying it has been seeking a change in the GMS contract ‘for some time’.
New Forest GP Dr Matthew Davies, who is also a qualified lawyer, said he had begun the challenge because general practice could 'go under' unless it can ‘diversify its funding' in this way.
He said that successfully challenging the GMS contract would ‘enable [GPs] to offer private services over and above those offered by the NHS to our own patients, increasing patient choice and also increasing practice funding so as to subsidise NHS provision of general practice'.
BMA Law - a law firm set up by the union to offer expert medical advice to doctors - has taken on the case. Four key arguments include questions around whether GPs should be allowed to operate privately outside of core hours and whether - especially in rural areas - restrictions on additional GP services could be classed as a ‘restraint of trade’.
To cover legal fees, Dr Davies has set up a crowdfunding page which has raised £3,400 of a £5,000 target in just a matter of days.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘We believe that GPs should be able to provide minor treatments and procedures that are not available through the NHS and therefore reducing the need for patients to seek expensive private hospital procedures. It would be reasonable to expect that patients would want to be able to get this service from their practice, from GPs they know, rather than having to be referred elsewhere.
‘Any change must not compromise the care available to all patients, free at the point of delivery within the NHS contract.'
Last year, GPs rejected a call for a ‘private, alternative model’ of general practice at the England LMC’s conference following a rare intervention from the RCGP. Speaking ahead of the debate in 2017, RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard warned that, despite immense pressures, ‘privatisation of general practice in any shape or form is not the answer’.
However, Dr Davies said his practice had been offered ‘a lot of support’ through messages of encouragement and financial contributions to the crowdfunding site.
‘Obviously it will be a contentious issue and not for everyone and I fully respect those views, but we felt something needed to be done. At least we will have asked those important questions,’ he said.