The British Medical Association is standing firm in its opposition to the government’s plans for extending GP opening hours because, it claims, they will “adversely affect” those patients in most need.

In an emailed statement yesterday, the Association slammed the government for failing to consider doctors’ own proposals for longer opening hours, instead threatening to “impose a draconian contract if GPs won’t agree to the deal on the table”.

The BMA’s GP Committee has been locked in discussions with NHS Employers since October to try and reach an agreement on extending surgery opening hours to evenings and at weekends, a flagship component of the government’s drive to improve primary care services.

But it looks like the two sides are still far from any middle ground. “We have done our utmost to come to a deal which would improve access for the minority of patients who are unhappy with the current arrangements, while at the same time trying to ensure it would not be at the expense of our most vulnerable patients, and by that I mean the elderly, the long-term sick and the very young,” claimed Dr Laurence Buckman, Chairman of the GPC.

“They have effectively put a gun to our head and said if we don’t accept their proposal they will impose a more draconian contract. The vast majority of our patients, and in particular those with chronic diseases or mothers with young children, prefer to come to surgeries during the day. They will be the ones who lose out if GPs are forced to work differently,” he warned.

Longer opening and improved QOF
The government wants the provision of around three hours of extra appointment time per practice per week, and says that it is offering a 1.5% additional investment in GMS services in return.

But the BMA has instead proposed that an average practice of six thousand patients provide an extra two hours of surgery time, with further improvements to the Quality and Outcomes Framework – an annual incentive and reward scheme for GPs – encouraging a greater focus on better care of patients with heart failure and osteoporosis, “leading to an improved quality of life for elderly patients”.

The Department of Health’s plans to force doctors to work on evenings and weekends “shows little understanding of how general practice works,” Buckman argued, and added: “We are being bullied so that the Prime Minister can tick a box next to a politically driven target without regard for the damage this could do in the long-term to patient services in primary care.”

But Dr Barbara Hakin, Chair of NHS Employers’ negotiating team, said: “We are very disappointed that the GPC has decided not to accept our proposals for changes to the GMS contract. We are offering GPs a good deal which reflects the investment that has been made in general practice over the last few years and responds to the wishes of patients who want swift and convenient access to see their GP”.