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DH launches GP choice consultation

There are "many practical challenges" to be faced if plans go ahead to allow people to choose which NHS GP they go to when in need of medical care, it has been argued.

As the government launches a consultation into the plans announced by Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, the National Association for Patient Participation said significant questions remain.

Royce Franklin, vice chairman of the patient group, welcomed the opportunity for more choice, but warned of the various practicalities that must be faced.

There are questions that need to be answered over the future of community-based services, and protecting access to hospital and specialist treatment.

But Mr Burnham said: "Giving people more choice of GP services will help drive up standards and improve quality. It is the right move at the right time."

The consultation over the plans to scrap GP catchment areas will last for 12 weeks, and both health professionals and patients are urged to put forward ideas on how the new system could operate.

The Tories are already committed to abolishing fixed practice boundaries and have criticised Labour for not acting sooner.

Mr Burnham said Conservative plans to restore GPs' right to decide evening and weekend hours would reduce choice by putting up to five million appointment slots at risk.

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National Association for Patient Participation

"This seems to be another ill-conceived idea for which the practical implications have not been thought through. Widening geographical choice is unlikely to drive up standards - like ‘parental choice for schools' it will simply increase travel.  There is already plenty of choice of GP practices in many urban areas where practices close together abound. In contrast there remains a lack of provision of GP practices in some deprived areas. Moving boundaries won't do anything to reduce inequality of provision but it will increase costs for patients and GP practices" - Catherine Gleeson, West Yorkshire