28/02/2008

GP Contracts 'Bad Deal For Taxpayers'

The new contract for GPs in England has cost the Department of Health £1.76 billion more than originally budgeted for, a report by the National Audit Office has found.

The report also found that, in the first two years of the contract, productivity has fallen by an average of 2.5% per year. GPs were working on average seven hours less per week than in 1992, although this was partly because of the removal of the responsibility for out of hours care.

The report also found that the annual average pay of a GP partner was £113,614 - an increase of 58% since 2002-03. However, the average salary of GPs employed by practices increased by only 3% in the first two years.

The NAO also found that, while the number of consultations has increase, these were not in proportion with the increase in costs.

Tim Burr, Head of the National Audit Office, said: "There is no doubt that a new GP contract was needed and there are now 4,000 more GPs than five years ago.

"But in return for higher pay, we have yet to see real increases in productivity. The extra money flowing into practices has largely benefited GP partners rather than rewarding other important members of the practice team. Primary Care Trusts now need to deliver to patients the benefits that were expected in return for GPs increase in pay."

Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said that the government welcomed the report and would be discussing what further measures could be taken to improve both GP and other primary care services.

However, Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Norman Lamb criticised the government's handling of the contract has "staggeringly incompetent".

He said: "It's clear that ministers had no realistic idea of the likely cost to the taxpayer or impact on patient care. People are now almost £2 billion out of pocket while getting less access to their doctor.

"It is crucial that the government addresses the failures in the contract by cooperating with doctors rather than needlessly picking battles with them.

"Ministers must act urgently on this and other independent reviews to reform the contract, so that improving patient services becomes a priority."

(KMcA)


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