Redefining the concept of punishment

Health secretary Alan Johnson had some interesting words for the profession when he spoke at the NHS Confederation in London last week.

'It is wrong for the government's position to be somehow characterised as seeking to punish the BMA and GPs for the contract introduced in 2004,' he told the audience.

One can only imagine at the response that line drew. This was the day before the BMA announced that GPs had reluctantly agreed to accept a contract change that would render the average practice £18,000 worse off.

This funding could of course be earned back by GPs extending their hours at an average practice by three hours per week. GPs might even have to work 12-hour days to do so.

The profession had rejected the DoH imposition of a contract change that would have left the average practice £36,000 worse off with the possibility that it would not be able to earn the funding back because it was made available to private firms.

Answers on a postcard to Mr Johnson at Richmond House, Whitehall, if you can think of a more apt verb than 'punish' to illustrate the DoH's treatment of GPs.

Anyway, a day after the health secretary's speech and GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman described Mr Johnson's words as 'an olive branch'.

But only after explaining that 98 per cent of UK GPs believed the government's method of negotiation was unacceptable, 92 per cent felt the direction of government policy in England would be detrimental to patients and 82 per cent were not at all confident in the government's handling of the NHS.

Dr Buckman added: 'We want the NHS to work properly as much as everyone else, we want patients to be happy with the service they get from GPs, but it will only work if GPs feel they can trust the government not to bully and micromanage them all the time.'

If you are sitting at your desk pondering how you are to offer these extended hours to earn back that £18,000 to maintain practice income, you might have a few more suggestions for what Mr Johnson should do with his 'olive branch'. But what of the future?

GP reports on page 13 that Dr Andrew Bailey, a GP from Dorset, thinks GPs should target key Labour marginals and aim to unseat their MPs as retired physician Dr Richard Taylor did in Wyre Forest in 2001.

Now there's a thought on which to ponder between patients while clocking up another 12-hour day. Dr Taylor's election proved the vulnerability of central government at the hands of a truly local and independent candidate campaigning on a health issue.

It would, of course, be unfair for this position to be characterised as seeking to punish the DoH.

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