Published: 06/12/2001, Volume III, No. 5784 Page 10

The ongoing negotiations over GP contracts may be undermined by 'ministerial interference', the British Medical Association has warned MPs.

Last week, the health select committee was told by GP committee deputy chair Dr Simon Fradd that talks with the NHS Confederation had revealed wide agreement on 'many key areas'. But, he said, 'there is a concern about ministerial interference'.

He continued: 'We want to have a very radical move to a highquality service. There are difficulties with that, as the capacity is not there. In order to ensure capacity, there are going to be cost implications - We are going to have to change nurses' contracts and GP contracts to both keep people and to attract new ones. ' But Dr Fradd believes that those 'cost implications' could worry ministers.

The Department of Health stressed that there would be 'no need for interference' from ministers: 'The involvement of the NHS Confederation will help ensure that any new contract is both good for GPs and meets the needs of local NHS services and most importantly the needs of NHS patients.

'The confederation have a remit and terms of reference. '

A spokesperson for the NHS Confederation said: 'Ministers from the UK health departments have given us a mandate in which to negotiate.

'We will be putting our proposals forward to them and seeking their endorsement at key stages and hope to avoid any surprise at the end of the process. '

The health committee later heard Dr Fradd describe the restructuring within primary care as creating a 'brave new world'.

Much of its success would depend on reaching the correct skill mix, he said. Hinting at the thrust of the GP contract negotiations about which the NHS Confederation has been tight-lipped, he said this could mean training people to carry out the relatively straightforward procedures currently done by GPs and allowing GPs to do more complex tasks.

But with the extra investment announced by chancellor Gordon Brown last week, Dr Fradd said the traditional danger remained that primary care would lose out to secondary care because it lacked the life-and-death profile.

'One of the problems with new resources is that they go straight through the system and get swallowed up in secondary care. '

NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon told MPs the NHS would need to rely on the private sector to increase capacity and reduce waiting lists in the short-term.