Belfast Telegraph

Threat of clinic chaos lifted after McGimpsey signs GPs agreement

By Lisa Smyth

A threat to one of the most basic NHS services has been lifted after the Health Minister signed a new contract for GPs — bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.

Michael McGimpsey has hit out at the British Medical Association (BMA) for raising concerns that GP surgeries across the province may be forced to close their doors to patients in a matter of weeks.

But the BMA has defended the decision to go public over the situation which emerged when Mr McGimpsey failed to sign up to the new General Medical Services (GMS) contract along with the other three UK Health Ministers last week.

An announcement that Mr McGimpsey would sign up to the UK-wide agreement came just hours after the Belfast Telegraph revealed fears that failure to agree to the deal could mean GPs would not be insured to practise from April 1. Mr McGimpsey said he had been unable to sign the contract due to uncertainty over his budget.

“Discussions on my budget and the pressures facing the health service have been well documented and the allocation I finally received was only agreed by the Assembly last week,” he said.

“The GMS settlement for 2011/12 will drive up GP productivity and secure higher quality services and better value for money from the GMS contract.

“That can only be good news for patients and for the health service, particularly when the Northern Ireland Budget is under such pressure.”

Dr Tom Black, deputy chair of the BMA (NI) GP Committee, said: “I am relieved that this contract has been signed off by Minister McGimpsey but disappointed at the delay.

“Family doctors across Northern Ireland have been concerned for their patients in light of the uncertainty that they have faced.

“We are reassured that the contractual basis for providing services to patients in Northern Ireland has been implemented.

“The contract, now due to start in two weeks’ time, will provide efficiency savings of 4% and expand the services available to patients at no extra cost.

“While this contract does not include any pay rise for GPs, the profession is aware that we are in difficult financial circumstances in Northern Ireland. We are determined to provide the highest quality service for patients within the resources available.”

The GMS contract is negotiated on a UK-wide basis by BMA representatives and the NHS Employers organisation — which acts on behalf of the four UK Health Ministers.

A number of changes have been made to the contract, including a pay freeze for GPs, efficiency savings of 4% and a small pay rise for practice staff who earn less than £21,000.

Background

The General Medical Services (GMS) contract is the UK-wide contract between general practices and primary care organisations for delivering primary care services to local communities.

NHS Employers lead negotiations with the General Practitioners Committee, which is part of the British Medical Association, on changes to the GMS contract. The GMS contract was introduced in 2003 and covers a number of areas, including the cost of running a general practice and setting out clinical standards and targets.

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