10/05/2006

Consultants contracts 'do not benefit benefit patients'

New NHS contracts for senior hospital doctors in England have provided little benefit to patients, a new report has claimed.

According to the King's Fund report, the new consultant contract, which was implemented in 2003, cost £90 million more to implement than was originally planned. However, the report said that there was "little evidence" to show that it was benefiting patients.

Consultants' pay and pensions have risen substantially since the contracts were introduced. However, the report said that there was "little evidence" that there had been any changes to consultants' working practices.

The report also said that the increased costs had placed "considerable pressure" on hospital budgets and had contributed to the size of deficits faced by some trusts.

Report author Professor James Buchan said: "The consultant contract was supposed to benefit not only consultants but patients and the health service in general. But even though the new contract is still relatively in its infancy, there are significant concerns that some NHS organisations do not seem to have complete plans in place to ensure that the contract can be used to benefit patients directly.

"There needs to be more emphasis at both national and local levels on how the contract can be used as a tool to benefit patients. That may be by looking more closely at consultants' working patterns and ways for managers to help consultants to work more productively."

The British Medical Association said that the reason why the new contracts had cost more than originally planned was because the government had "underestimated" how hard consultants worked for the NHS.

However, a Department of Health spokesperson said that the NHS pay reforms were helping to motivate staff and said that there was still some way to go before the full benefits were realised.

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "For the vast amount of extra money going into the NHS, we are not nearly getting the increase in productivity required. The government has spent without reform and without providing incentives to increase productivity.

"The government are responsible for this mismanagement of NHS finances and must be held to account."

(KMcA)

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