Published: 01/04/2004, Volume II4, No. 5899 Page 7

GPs could be encouraged to 'sell off ' parts of their business if the government introduces new legislation that would bring primary care in line with other commercial operations, the British Medical Association has warned.

The government was expected to start the legal process this week that would mean GP practices and private providers would be able to include 'goodwill' in the price when hiving off parts of their business under the new general medical services contract, which is due to be implemented today.

Goodwill is the sum that could be charged for the 'custom' of patients, on top of tangible assets.

Currently, GPs are not allowed to include goodwill in the price if they contract out any services that fall within their NHS contracts.

But under new regulations, private providers or GP practices offering 'additional' services (such as cervical screening and vaccinations) and 'enhanced' services (such as care of violent patients or specialised sexual care) would be able to include goodwill on their balance sheets. The ban on adding goodwill to core 'essential' services would remain.

BMA GP committee chair Dr John Chisholm said any rule change would lead to a 'trade in patient care', and Medical Practitioners Union president Dr Ron Singer said there was a danger that GP practices would sell off primary care services wholesale to private providers which would 'completely contradict' the government's choice policy.

Yorkshire Wolds and Coast primary care trust finance director Mark Day, a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy health panel, said the rule change would only apply to non-core services.

He argued that any change was not likely to attract more private providers to primary care, but it would provide a level playing field on which businesses could compete.

He added that GP practices had always been able to charge for goodwill if they provided services additional to those required under their standard NHS contract.