18 family doctors facing the axe

HAVERING faces losing 18 family doctors as health bosses threaten to sack GPs in a dispute over funding for patient services.

Sixteen practices across the borough have been ordered to sign tough new contracts by NHS Havering which would see their total budgets slashed by around �600,000 – a reduction of 40 per-cent of care costs in some cases.

But ten rebel practices – serving more than 60,000 residents – are refusing to sign the new contracts, claiming it would lead to huge job losses and unacceptable reduction in patient care.

Managers have now written to the practices, warning them to expect six months’ notice of termination, unless the contracts are signed.

“This is unprecedented,” said a spokesman for one practice. “We simply cannot survive on the reduced budget; we will have to make doctors and nurses redundant and patient care will suffer including greatly increased waiting times for appointments.

“Our primary concern is always the welfare of patients and we are appalled at the impact on services that would inevitably result.”

The squeeze was put on by external consultants, McLaren Perry, who have been employed to make savings in NHS Havering.

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However, NHS Havering has said the new contract is a push for funding equality in practices, to counteract current differences, which range from around �80 per patient in some practices to nearly �130 in others.

A spokesman said: “By offering a standardised contract, the PCT feels that it can improve the service that patients have from their GP, as well as offering better value for money during this tough economic period.”

The GPs have called in lawyers, arguing the existing contracts are legally binding.

Doctors say their case is a strong one, and if NHS Havering lose, the cost to the public purse could run into the tens of thousands of pounds.

“These 18 GPs, many of whom have 25 years or more experience in Havering, are well-known and well-liked family doctors,” the GP spokesman said. “All of the ten practices deliver a very high standard of care to their patients.

“All of the GPs involved have strong ties with residents of Havering; by contrast, the managers attempting to push through these termination notices have in many cases worked in Havering no more than two years.”

NHS Havering commenced a review of the 16 practices in the borough it directly funds, 18 months ago.

The remaining 35 practices in Havering are funded under a different system by the Government, and will not be affected by the new contracts. The full board of NHS Havering will meet on October 19 to consider termination of the GPs’ contracts where it will be up to the non-executive directors, all Havering residents.

A statement from NHS Havering said: “This contract contains a number of improvements for patient care, including longer opening hours and a minimum number of appointments that a practice has to have available for its patients.”