Andy Burnham is announcing plans to scrap geographical catchment areas for GPs.  This is a sensible proposal that reflects the complexity of modern living and gives patients more choice.  It means that commuters could register with a GP near their workplace or that people could stay with a particular GP even if they move away.

Inevitably, the British Medical Association have expressed reservations, saying “it’s going to be very complicated”.  This sounds like the usual BMA code for “give us more money”.  Earlier this week GPs finally agreed that they were prepared to vaccinate their patients against swine flu (isn’t that what being a doctor is all about) provided they were paid £5.25 a shot.  So I predict that dealing with a non-local patient (even if they are exempted from ever having to do home visits and such patients will often be younger, more mobile and fitter) will require still more payment.

In the run up to the creation of the National Health Service in 1948, to buy the doctors’ support  Nye Bevan “stuffed their mouths with gold“.  Ever since then, the doctors have expected the same treatment any time there is a change in the way the NHS is run.  This will be another example.

Whilst Andy Burnham’s changes are desirable, what will make the biggest difference will be to allow patients to switch from one GP practice to another simply and without penalty.  At present, anyone who wants to join a GP practice by switching from another local practice without having moved home is treated with suspicion and distrust – the assumption is that they must be a trouble-maker who has dared to question the infallibility of their existing GP (and therefore are not the sort of patient any other GP would want on their books).

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