Published:25/04/2002, Volume II2, No. 5802, Page 6

Most GPs will not pull back from providing a wide range of health services, despite the freedom to do so under the newly agreed GP contract, the NHS Confederation has claimed.

The contractual arrangements have been negotiated between the British Medical Association's GPs committee and the NHS Confederation on behalf of the government. Under the new contract, patients will be registered with practices rather than individual GPs. The arrangements allow practices to opt out of providing some services, provided adequate alternative arrangements are in place. These include cervical smears, contraceptive services, vaccinations and maternity care.

But South Yorkshire strategic health authority chief executive Mike Farrar, who headed the negotiations for the NHS Confederation, said: 'Our assumption is that most places want to provide the broadest range of services. We do not know how many will withdraw at this stage, but we think when they see the money, many practices will continue to provide the services.'

The contract will also allow GPs to opt out of providing 24-hour care, for the first time.

Responsibility for round-the-clock cover will be assumed by primary care organisations, and arrangements for dropping out-of-hours care can only be phased in once alternatives have been organised.

It also emerged that everyone registered with a GP may have to re-register by signing an agreement that they will use primary care services responsibly. A senior source told HSJ that although the idea for patients signing up to act responsibly had not come directly out of the negotiations, GPs were keen to have the idea acted on.

The new contract will be voted on by GPs in June and, if accepted, will be priced before a second and final ballot later in the year. It is hoped the contract would last around 10 years. It seems set to supersede the personal medical services contract, as well as the general medical services contract that most GPs work under. Mr Farrar said: 'I think eventually both contracts will be locally managed.'