Viewpoint: Why the GP contract has to change

Health minister Lord Howe, writing exclusively for, explains why he believes the GP contract overhaul is needed and how 2013 will be a great year for the NHS.

Lord Howe: government did not walk away from contract negotiations (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)
Lord Howe: government did not walk away from contract negotiations (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)

This is an important year for the NHS as GPs take centre stage leading the design of health services for local communities.

We know you want to ensure continuous improvements in the quality of local health services just as we want to ensure that the GP contract helps promote ongoing improvements in primary care.

The world does not stand still and nor does good healthcare. More than ever, we need to make sure every NHS pound spent delivers the very best value in terms of improving health outcomes or care for patients.

Our proposed changes to the GP contract are about identifying where best practice already exists and helping to spread it across the board.

For instance, a quarter of all GP practices are already achieving the proposed upper thresholds for the 20 QOF interventions with the biggest impact on reducing mortality and many more are not far behind. Bringing all practices up to these levels will give greater confidence that all patients are benefiting from high quality care.

Whilst maintaining investment in primary care, it is essential we move towards a fairer allocation of resources. It is unfair that some practices receive only half the funding per patient that others do. We recognise it will take time – and great care – to get this process right, so we propose phasing these changes in over seven years from April 2014.

Finally, I want to say that we have at no point backed away from contract negotiations with the BMA. We have been firm about wanting continuous improvements in the quality and outcomes for patients, but we have always been clear that we would prefer to reach an agreement with the GPC on how to achieve this.

GPs know patients better than anyone else and we want you to be central to improving patient care. I have every confidence in your leadership, expertise and dedication to do that.

Many argue this will be the most challenging year the NHS has ever faced. But with GPs at the heart of shaping local health services, I believe it will end up being one of its best.

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