GPs’ surgeries would be stopped operating as “murky” private businesses under Labour, the shadow health secretary has suggested, deepening a row with the doctors’ union.
Wes Streeting said he is “minded to phase out” the system of GP partnerships, where self-employed doctors act as contractors for the NHS.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the shadow minister should be targeting the Government for overseeing a “haemorrhaging” of GPs rather than “blaming family doctors”.
Mr Streeting outlined reforms that he said would stop GPs being “the sole gatekeeper” to the NHS, including getting pharmacies to do more vaccination and prescribing.
In an interview with The Times, he said he understood that would make GPs anxious because vaccinations are “money for old rope and a good money spinner”.
He also argued patients should be able to refer themselves directly to specialists rather than going through their family doctor in some cases to free up time.
He vowed to take on the “vested interest” of the BMA as he considers tearing up the GP contract if Labour forms a government.
“The truth is that the way that GP practices operate financially is a murky, opaque business,” Mr Streeting said.
“I’m not sure that people can honestly say exactly how the money is spent or where it goes. And from my point of view, as someone who wants to be a custodian of the public finances as health secretary, that would not be a tolerable situation.
“I’m minded to phase out the whole system of GP partners altogether and to look at salaried GPs working in modern practices alongside a range of other professionals.”
Dr Kieran Sharrock, BMA England GP committee acting chair, said doctors agree the GP contract needs to be “revamped” but that it “shouldn’t be about reinventing the wheel”.
“Instead of blaming family doctors and their representatives for problems with the health service – the Opposition should clearly be setting its sights on the Government that has overseen a haemorrhaging of GPs over the last decade,” he added.
“This is not about ‘vested interests’. We represent our members and also want the best for patients. The two co-exist.
“We have offered to sit down and discuss this with Mr Streeting, to ensure that he understands the pressures on the front line and how these can realistically be alleviated for the benefit of both staff and patients.”
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said Mr Streeting’s description of “murky” doctors’ practices is “something we certainly do not recognise”.
“The partnership model of general practice delivers exceptional benefits for the NHS,” she said, arguing it is “extremely good value for money” for the NHS.
Mr Streeting has previously criticised the BMA’s “defensive attitudes”, saying the union is “hostile” to his plans as he hit out at a “something-for-nothing culture in the NHS”.
Shadow public health minister Andrew Gwynne insisted “this isn’t about picking a fight with GPs”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The fundamental problem here is the primary care system, in particular, is not working well enough, it’s not working in the interest of the patients who struggle to see GPs and then end up at the front door of hospitals.”