Published: 16/01/2003, Volume II3, No. 5838 Page 6

GPs will receive a 'significant' pay rise from 1 April if they accept the new GP contract, and even those practices opting out of providing out-of-hours cover will not be worse off, the British Medical Association said last week.

With current average earnings for a GP at£61,618, this means that if out-of-hours cover is priced at£9,000 as predicted, GPs willing to keep their 24-hour commitment could expect to earn at least£70,000.

Details of negotiations on the contract were given to a BMA meeting of local medical committees last Friday. The meeting had originally been due to receive the final contract, but this was postponed until 20 February when the Department of Health delayed providing data to cost the contract.

Although there was considerable anger at the delay in finalising the contract, the meeting heard substantial progress had been made in most areas and only a small number of poorly performing practices would lose out.

BMA GPs committee chair Dr John Chisholm told the meeting that balloting would finish on 11 April, but that a large pay rise would be backdated to the beginning of the month if the deal was accepted.

He said: 'Assuming the contract is accepted, however, GPs would notice one of the first major changes in their quarterly payments. Investment into practices will increase. There will be a significant pay uplift for GPs backdated to 1 April 2003.'

GPs committee negotiator Dr Hamish Meldrum told the meeting that under the financial settlement GPs would not be worse off if they stopped providing outof-hours cover. He said: 'We expect practices to be better off as a result of this contract, and if, despite opting out, they are not as well off as they were, we will not have a contract.'

The meeting heard that the three areas still to be agreed were pensions, forced allocations of patients to practices and pricing the contract. Although it was reported that there was likely to be agreement about pricing and patient allocations, it was reported that negotiations over pensions were likely to continue until the last minute.

Committee negotiator Dr Andrew Dearden said: 'We have made it plain right from the start that this is one of the prerequisites to accepting the contract.We anticipate that it will go right to the wire.

'If the pensions are unacceptable, I am sure the profession will state that in the ballot.'

The meeting also heard that although a small number of practices will be worse off under the new contract, transitional arrangements are meant to ensure that nobody loses out.

As part of changes in working practices around the new contract, the prescribing role of pharmacists is to be expanded, education programmes for schools and the public about the use of health services are being prepared and a UK-wide body to look at demand management is planned.

GP contract timetable

20 February contract presented to GPC.

20 March ballot papers sent out.

11 April ballot closes.

Late April results of vote and initial implementation if yes vote.

October legislation allows further implementation.

1 April 2004 full implementation of contract.