You must cover out of hours, GPs told: New Health Secretary vows to tear up contract that ended their responsibility for evening care

Family doctors will be forced to take back responsibility for out-of-hours care following a string of tragic blunders under Labour.

The new Conservative Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, pledged to tear up the controversial GPs’ contract which allowed them to shirk their obligation to provide care in the evenings and at weekends.

‘GPs should be responsible,’ Mr Lansley said. ‘There will need to be a new contract to make this point.’

New Health Secretary: Andrew Lansley has outlined his plans to reform GP care

New Health Secretary: Andrew Lansley has outlined his plans to reform GP care

In his first interview since taking office, Mr Lansley told the Daily Mail that he would also end the scandal of foreign doctors who cannot speak English working in the NHS.

He said he was prepared to pass new laws if necessary to ensure that GPs ‘have the relevant language skills to ensure that they are safe’.

Labour allowed GPs to opt out of responsibility for patients outside office hours and at weekends as part of a botched contract which came into force in 2004.

Since then, private companies have taken over the provision of cover and in many cases have employed foreign doctors, often with little grasp of English.

The Daily Mail has repeatedly highlighted the deterioration in the service since the contract was changed. Tragedies included the death of retired engineer David Gray, 70, who was given ten times the correct dose of diamorphine by German locum Dr Daniel Ubani.

A Harris poll for this newspaper showed that 60 per cent of people believe out-of-hours care has got worse, suggesting that this was seen by voters as one of Labour’s biggest failures.

The Health Secretary said the coalition Government would stick to the Tory pledge to ensure the NHS gets a ‘real terms’ increase in spending over the lifetime of the Parliament.

But it would have to find big efficiency savings that could be reinvested to bring cancer survival rates up to European standards, he said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Lansley also set out plans to:

  • End the sale of alcohol at ‘bargain basement’ prices by supermarkets;
  • Bring in a £200million fund for new cancer drugs by April 2011;
  • Stop the ‘forced closure’ of maternity and A&E units;
  • Increase the number of single rooms to end the indignity of mixed-sex wards
  • .

Mr Lansley has ruled out a straightforward return to the old out- of-hours system where GPs had to be on call round the clock.

Under his plans, responsibility will be handed back from primary care trusts to GPs working in local groups, who will commission services or provide them by working in rotas through co-ops.

Mr Lansley believes that if GPs are responsible for their own budgets, and have to commission out-of-hours care themselves, most will decide to go back to offering weekend and evening cover themselves or in local groups.

But he faces a battle with GPs to reform the system.

One British Medical Association representative has said there is ‘not a cat in hell’s chance’ of doctors agreeing to return to being ultimately responsible for out-of-hours care.

Andrew Lansley, fourth from left, joins his fellow cabinet members and David Cameron at 10 Downing Street

Andrew Lansley, fourth from left, joins his fellow cabinet members and David Cameron at 10 Downing Street

Mr Lansley was unclear over whether GPs, who took a £6,000 pay cut if they opted out of responsibility for out-of-hours-care, would be paid more as a result of changes to the contract. But he insisted that health service staff would have to share the pain of other public sector workers facing a pay freeze next year.

‘I think people in the NHS should not expect to have any outcome in terms of pay which is different from the rest of the public sector,’ he said. ‘The same discipline should apply.’

The Health Secretary also said he supported a reduction in the time limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 22, having voted unsuccessfully for a change in the law in the past.

‘I felt that there was increasing evidence that a small reduction in that time limit was consistent with the potential for life, and sustainable life, in a baby born very prematurely at that point,’ he said.

The Health Secretary stressed that any further move to change the law would have to be initiated by a backbench MP and would be subject to a free vote in the Commons.


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