Any slowing of the white paper reforms risks “strangling the life out of them”, the chair of the National Association of Primary Care has warned.

Speaking at the NAPC conference in Birmingham yesterday, Dr Johnny Marshall gave a robust defence of GP’s ability to deliver successfully on the white paper reforms.

In response to concerns raised in white paper consultation responses from some organisations, including the King’s Fund, he said: “Developing this over two and a half years is quite long enough to deliver significant change without prejudicing the safety of patients or financial control.

“Any longer and I fear all life will be strangled out of these reforms,” he told delegates.

He added: “There are some voices suggesting GPs have neither the capability not the capacity to deliver general practice commissioning.

“I’d just like to say to them, you’ve missed the point. This is not all about GPs. It’s not something GPs can deliver alone. It’s going to require strong relationships between clinicians, managers, greater use of the skills within healthcare teams.”

He said GP commissioning consortia would have to concentrate on “working smarter” and “reducing unwarranted variation” between practices in order to bring about improvements in quality.

Dr Marshall also warned that GPs would have to change their view of themselves as patient advocates rather than part of the system.

He said: “General practice will need to shift from it’s long celebrated independence, with a new sense of inter dependence, as we seek not only to be the advocate of the patient sat in front of us….but become change agents across the system to ensure the right choices are available to our patients in the first place.”

Dr Marshall said consortia would have to be leaner organisations than PCTs and be “highly effective at using the talent available to them”.

He added: “We must also be sensitive to the uncertainty that will result from the reduction in management costs. But we must not lose sight of the ultimate aim and ensure we have the right skills, the right attitudes and the right behaviours within our future workforce.”