Milburn brings in Confederation to end impasse on GPs contract

12 Jul 01
Hopes that a new GP contract will be agreed soon rose this week after Health Secretary Alan Milburn invited the NHS Confederation to lead the discussions on behalf of health service employers.

13 July 2001

Speaking at the confederation's annual conference in Manchester last week, Milburn said: 'I have come to the view that the process of negotiation will be helped if the NHS rather than a government department or ministers speak for the employers' side of the table.

'In the end, GPs work for the NHS. It must be right for the NHS to speak for itself as these negotiations begin,' he added.

GPs had overwhelmingly voted in favour of a mass resignation if the negotiations were not concluded by April 2002. But the signs are that Milburn's initiative will breach the impasse.

The British Medical Association welcomed the announcement. Dr John Chisholm, chair of the BMA GPs' committee, said: 'If Milburn's move is a recognition of the urgent need to press ahead with negotiation, then involving the NHS Confederation, which has frontline experience of managing primary care, could be a constructive way forward.'

But he warned that contact with ministers must be maintained to ensure there was high-level support for offers on the table.

The confederation's chief executive, Stephen Thornton, said the move could give the negotiations some much-needed momentum. 'This could be a fresh start to a process that had stalled. It could go a long way to taking the politics and posturing out of the negotiations.'

The health secretary also assured delegates that there would be no private sector takeover of the NHS. He reiterated that private companies' involvement would be limited to developing the Private Finance Initiative in primary care, IT projects, the management of some of the new stand-alone surgical units and in providing capacity to cut queues for routine surgery.

He added that managers should focus on five priority areas – conditions with the greatest clinical priority, such as cancer and heart disease; increasing capacity in primary care; improving emergency care; cutting waiting times; and ensuring wards are clean and the food is of good quality.


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