Furious GPs lock stethoscopes with critical Hunt

GPs' leaders are engaging in a bitter exchange of insults with health secretary Jeremy Hunt today, as relations between the government and health professionals reaches a new low.

Hunt has hit out at GPs by blaming them for the current crisis faced by accident and emergency services, which are struggling to cope with high volumes of patients.

He will use a speech at the King's Fund later to suggest the 2004 GP contract which shook up out-of-hours services is to blame.

That prompted an angry response from Dr Laurence Buckman, the outgoing chair of the British Medical Association's GPs' committee.

"He does not want to bother with the facts when he can have a childish and simplistic bash at those of us who on his own admission are overworked and strained beyond endurance," he said at the BMA's GPs' conference.

"GPs are not prepared to shore up a system that has been rendered unsafe by unwise political meddling."

Hunt told the Today programme earlier he did not believe GPs should be "personally taking calls at 02:00 in the morning", but insisted they are responsible for their patients and should make sure they have "the right out-of-hours service".

He is expected to go much further in his speech later, accusing them of being "inaccessible" to frail and elderly patients who find themselves forced to resort to A&E.

Buckman hit back at the government's "botched" failure to successfully implement its 111 advice line, which could have provided useful support to patients.

Meanwhile the Royal College of General Practitioners warned the amount of money allocated to GPs will fall by nearly £200 million over the next three years, making the current situation even worse.

"General practice is the most effective and cost-effective way of providing patient care – a whole day's care in general practice costs one tenth of a day in hospital," chair Dr Clare Gerada said.

"But funding and resources for our services is being stretched to the limits, with family doctors facing ballooning workloads, record hours being worked in surgery and real consequences for patient care."

GPs receive nine per cent of the total NHS budget. Gerada added: "Most GPs want to help alleviate pressure on hospitals, including on A&E, with a shift in care back to the community, but this must be matched with adequate resourcing and we cannot continue to juggle an ever-increasing workload with a decreasing workforce."

Labour pointed out the NHS Confederation had said there is no link between the 2004 contract and pressure currently faced by A&E.

"By picking on a convenient political target, the health secretary is failing to face up to the real causes of the chaos," shadow health secretary said.

"That cannot be allowed to continue as the pressure is not going away and it is his job to find solutions."

Figures released last week showed 59 NHS trusts in England failed to meet their main A&E target of 95% of patients being seen within four hours.