Doctors Accuse The Government Of ‘Asset-Stripping’ Local Health Care

Patients could find it harder to see their GP, as doctors last night accused the Government of asset-stripping local health services. The Assembly Government last week withdrew £6.2m ear-marked for enhanced GP services, which included a ground-breaking scheme to help people with learning disabilities across Wales.

The money will be given to local health boards, but doctors fear it will be used to offset tens of millions of pounds of debt, rather than re-invested in primary care. And they claim practices could be forced to lay off staff or forgo locum cover – both of which would have serious knock-on effects on patients – as a result.

It is understood that this is the first time the Assembly Government has withdrawn funding from primary care services. It comes not only a month before the elections, but at a time when politicians want more health services to be moved into the community and out of hospitals.

Dr Andrew Dearden, chairman of the Welsh GP committee, last night said, “In the past, when money has been managed by local health boards, it has not been used for the purpose intended, but has been used to offset over-spends. Taking away this money means that there is a good chance that staff will not be replaced in surgeries, that full-time GPs will be replaced by part-time GPs and, when staff retire, they may not be replaced at all.”

Under the GP contract, practices are given extra money to pay for enhanced services outside of the remit of normal care. They include flu vaccinations and the childhood immunisation programme, as well as specific services to meet the needs of the local population, such as GPs proving minor injury services to people in Powys.

But the enhanced services also cover a number of special Welsh services, including the scheme to assess annually the physical and mental health needs of people with learning disabilities.

GP practices have also received funding to check and transfer patient records to computer databases and to carry out question- naires designed to improve patient access to primary care services.

The British Medical Association’s GP negotiating team was called to a meeting last Wednesday, where Assembly Government officials said the enhanced services funding would be cut by £5m. When the GPs said they could not agree to such a cut, the full £6.2m – equivalent to £18,000 per GP practice – was completely withdrawn.

Dr Dearden said the GPs were given an ultimatum – lose £5m or all the funding – that they could not accept. He added that such “asset-stripping” also has serious consequences for the Government’s Designed For Life plan, which aims to create a world-class health service for Wales.

A central plank of this blueprint is that hospital services will be moved into the community and that patients are kept out of hospital as much as possible.

Dr Dearden said, “The Designed for Life policy is now dead – there is no way work can be moved from the secondary care sector to the primary care sector, if we are going to decrease the bit we are sending it to. If we have less staff we won’t be able to do the work we are doing now, let alone take on more in the future.”

The Assembly Government last night said it could not comment because it had now entered the pre-election period.