Headlines: April 22nd, 2002

The NHS Confederation and the BMA have agreed what they hope will be the framework for a new contract for family GPs.It will modernise an old-fashioned system that left doctors frustrated, feeling overworked and new doctors to opt for alternative careers than general practice.

Its lack of flexibility was also frustrating the Government, but negotiations were effectively stalled until the NHS Confederation, the organisation that represents the organisations that run NHS services, stepped in as broker.

The success of the NHS Confederation in this role may well have influenced post-budget announcements that it is to have a bigger role in future pay negotiations for other health professionals.

The new contract recognises different levels of GP service. Every practice would handle ‘essential services’. ‘Additional services’ would be provided at most, but some smaller or struggling practices could opt out. And some ambitious practices could opt in to ‘enhanced services’.

A graded system of payments will reward GPs according to the level of work they take on. Others can opt to manage their workloads by taking on less.

For the first time, family doctors will cease 24 hour responsibility for their patients, 365 days a year. Responsibility for providing the out of hours service will, in most areas, pass to the local Primary Care organisation.

Last May the BMA balloted GPs to ask if they would consider resigning from their current NHS contracts if negotiations could not be pushed ahead. A vote in favour has been held in reserve, even though the new contract should have started this month.

The new contract framework will now be sent to all UK family doctors for a ballot in June, followed by further negotiations on detail and a further ballot.

The document is available on www.nhsconfed.org/whatsnew