June 20, 2008

Region’s Doctors Accused of Hysteria

By Robert Merrick

THE Health Secretary launched an attack on the region's family doctors, accusing them of talking "nonsense" about his controversial plans for polyclinics.

Alan Johnson brandished a leaflet distributed by Teesside GPs to their patients - entitled Save Our Surgeries - as he denounced its "unsubstantiated claims" in the Commons chamber.

The attack - in which the GPs were also accused of "hysteria" - marked a further escalation in the bitter war of words over the proposals for the super-surgeries, boasting up to 25 family doctors.

The Save Our Surgeries campaign claims the move will force patients to travel further for a check-up and amounts to the "dismantling of traditional general practice in this country".

But Mr Johnson told MPs: "That is nonsense, because we are actually providing new investment and additional capacity."

The Health Secretary condemned other "unsubstantiated claims", including:

That patients will be forced to de-register from their local surgery;

That funding was very short term, leaving care trusts to find other sources when it ran out;

That GPs would be forced to work for large, private companies, such as Tesco or Virgin - and follow "company policy".

On the last point, Mr Johnson said: "This borders on hysteria.

We expect many of the new contracts to go to GP-led consortiums, not private companies.

"Any GP practice, whoever runs it, has a professional duty to provide the best possible care.

"In fact, Virgin has made it clear that it is not interested and will not even be bidding for these new practices."

Mr Johnson is also understood to be unhappy about the implication of the leaflet's warning that GPs recruited by big firms have "little experience of British general practice".

No one was available from Cleveland GPs' local management committee to comment on the criticisms, made during a Toryinspired debate on polyclinics.

However, both the Conservatives and British Medical Association are standing by their claims that the shake-up will "undermine the traditional relationship between a doctor and a patient".

They claim the Department of Health has admitted that patients will have to travel further to see a GP in London, where polyclinics are being pioneered.

But Mr Johnson has insisted the new centres will be popular, because they will be open from 8am to 8pm, for any patient who walks in and will offer tests and x-rays only available at hospital.

Furthermore, the Department of Health has pledged [pounds]250m to ensure they are extra services, with no existing GP practices forced to close.

Mr Johnson described the new buildings - outside London - as "GP- led health centres", not polyclinics, and suggested they may have as few as five GPs each.

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