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Health Insight April 2001:
PM announces more funds for GP services

  Tony Blair has announced that new incentive schemes will be negotiated between NHS primary care groups and trusts and GP surgeries. £5,000 will be paid 'up-front' to help practices provide improved service, with a further £5,000 paid at the end of the year to those which meet locally agreed incentive targets. There will be incentives for GPs who choose to work in deprived areas. Doctors who have left general practice will be offered £5,000 to return, and GPs who are planning to retire early at 60 will be offered a £10,000 investment bond to encourage them to stay on to 65.

In a speech to the Royal College of General Practitioners, he also announced that from May there would be a national director for primary care services. Dr David Colin-Thomé will be the first holder of the post. His role will be similar to that of the recently appointed directors for cancer, heart disease, mental health, and the elderly.

According to the Health Service Journal, senior staff in the DoH were not made aware in advance of the Prime Minister's announcement and that, in consequence, the scheme has yet to be worked out in detail. NHS managers say they face a huge task in designing the new incentive arrangements. The BMA says that £5,000-10,000 per practice is not enough to implement the modernisation reforms which the government is demanding.

A constant complaint of GPs has been that paperwork has increased in recent years to the point that it threatens to overwhelm them. The government is seeking to address this concern. Health Minister John Denham said changes would be introduced regarding the number of forms GPs had to sign. To give just one example, hospital doctors will no longer refer patients back to their GP in order to get a sickness certificate. The minister estimated the changes would save GPs 750,000 hours of form filling a year - equivalent to seven million appointments with patients.

The response from the BMA has been described as 'guarded'. The association has reservations about cash incentives as they could act to increase pressures on overworked and demoralised GPs, leading to more cases of 'burn out' and early retirement.

Sources: Health Service Journal 22 March
Press release (DoH), BBC Online, BMJ 24 March

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