Catholic doctors threaten to resign over new GP contracts

 Two doctors in Wiltshire say they will leave the NHS, if a new GP contract is voted in next month. The contract, drawn up up after a 'wide-ranging consultation exercise', contains a number of changes designed to improve services to patients and enable GPs and practice teams to 'keep their workloads within safe limits'. It includes new arrangements for patient allocation, and the reorganisation of resources. All 48,000 NHS GPs in the country have been asked to vote to accept or reject it by 8 July. Dr Robert Hardie and Dr Susan Frankland, who have been running St Damian's Surgery in Melksham, Wiltshire, for the past ten years, say that the new deal superficially looks innocuous, but will restrict their work in many ways, and potentially present major ethical problems. Dr Hardie said: "Effectively it will place us at the beck and call of Primary Care Trusts (PCT). If they felt there was a need in the area, we would have to come up with very good reasons why we did not provide for example, artificial contraceptive services. A lot of doctors haven't thought this through." Speaking on the front page of GP magazine on Monday, he said: "This contract is totally playing into the enemy camp. We will be paid more for doing what the government wants us to do. For things we don't want to do we will have to ask permission from the PCT. This is the end to our freedom." . St Damian's Surgery describes itself as a 'small Christian NHS General Practice.' In their leaflet they state: 'As a Pro-Life Christian practice we actively support the principals of protecting human life from conception to the moment of death.' We do not offer advice on artificial contraception or pre-natal screening. We will continue to speak out against euthanasia and advance directives (Living Wills) . We do not believe in preserving life at all costs but do believe in the dignity of the human spirit and the sanctity of life as given by God.' 'Many problems have no easy medical remedy and there is much mystery and wonder in life that defies scientific explanation,' says the leaflet. It explains that a room has been set aside at the top of the house for quiet reflection prayer, and doctors and some staff will pray with patients if asked. Dr Hardie said if they resign from the NHS, they will continue as a private practice. "So many Catholic institutions start off serving the poor and end up becoming private in order to retain their integrity" he commented. A BMA spokesman said that at present it appeared that opinion among GPs was equally divided but several other Christian and some Moslem doctors had also raised concerns about the contract. "The vote could go either way" he said. Dr Ian Jessiman, from the Guild of Catholic Doctors, said he was aware that a number of doctors from different faiths had expressed concerns about aspects of the contract. "It looks as though it would affect new practices rather than existing ones," he said. "We are pursuing this question."

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