More than a quarter of GPs believe that proposed changes to their contracts will mean they have to restrict access to patients, a poll suggests.

The British Medical Association published results of the survey yesterday. It found that 58 per cent of the 8,000 GPs who responded believed they would have to alter the services they offer if the proposed changes come into effect.

Just over half of those said they would have to restrict patients’ access to their surgeries if the contract changes go ahead.

And the changes, proposed by health officials last year, would lead to a reduction of staff, the poll suggests.

One in five of the GPs who said they would be forced to make changes said they would have to make clinical staff redundant and 35 per cent said they would have to lay off administrative staff.

Nine in 10 of this group said they would not be able to see patients as quickly as they do currently.

The Department of Health proposed the amended contracts, which will change the way GPs are rewarded for the care they offer, saying they will benefit patients with long-term conditions and dementia.

Instead of being offered financial incentives for routine office functions like record-keeping, GPs will be rewarded for earlier diagnosis and better care of dementia patients and improving the lives of patients with long-term conditions, a Department spokesman said.

But the BMA said the proposed changes risk “putting targets before patients”.

Responding to the government’s consultation on proposals to make changes to the contracts from April 2013, the union said that GP practices would find it difficult to maintain the current level of care they offer.

Laurence Buckman, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “This huge package of changes fails to consider the cumulative impact of these proposals and includes suggestions which are simply not feasible in practice or would lead to unintended consequences.

“The changes would make it difficult for practices to maintain the level of care they currently offer while introducing an even greater focus on targets and box ticking at the expense of holistic, patient-centred primary care.

“GPs will also struggle to reconcile the government’s desire to increase workload and introduce new priorities with the significant constriction of resources and capacity heralded by these proposals.

“The government needs to address the serious concerns expressed by GPs. If they fail to make changes to their proposals they run the risk of damaging patient care and undermining the very services they are seeking to improve.”

A spokesman for the NHS Employers organisation said: “The British Medical Association has provided a lengthy and detailed response to the GP contract consultation, which both the Department of Health and NHS Employers will need time to consider properly.

“After the GP contract consultation ends on February 26, ministers will take into account the representations that have been made during the consultation and then decide how to proceed.”

Health minister Lord Howe said: “Improving patient care is our priority. We want to make sure the best possible care is provided in a more consistent way across the country.

“Our changes aim to help GPs manage their workload at the same time as making improvements which will mean better care for all - especially patients with long-term conditions and dementia.

“Our proposals are not about imposing new targets. They are designed to reduce the amount of administrative box ticking and to focus time and money more onto direct patient care. They would ensure more patients get access to high quality clinical care and have the potential to save more lives.”

HSJ Briefing: general practice services and policy

Exclusive: GP practices’ huge income variation revealed