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Nurses must unite to bargain over increased hours in GP practices

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Practice nurses have been warned to band together to safeguard pay and conditions, ahead of a controversial extension to general practice hours.

Sue Nutbrown, nurse adviser at the National Association of Primary Care, told NT that practice nurses would be in a stronger position if they formed a group within their PCT and collectively bargained for terms and conditions before April’s surgery changes.

The changes have been demanded by health secretary Alan Johnson, who wrote to GPs earlier this month asking them to stay open three more hours per week and to open on Saturdays. This will undoubtedly also lead to changes in practice nurse working hours.

Ms Nutbrown said nurses must be proactive on the issue rather than led by their GP employers. ‘Practice nurses need to be prepared with a case as to what they can and can’t take on within their practice,’ she said. ‘If they are expected to do extra hours they need to negotiate remuneration for that.

‘The best thing to do is set up a practice nurse forum so all of the nurses within a particular PCT can bargain together and ask for the same base line increase in salary,’ she added.

Linda Saville, practice nurse at Norwood Medical Centre in Sheffield, said the potential changes to opening hours were a major talking point in her area. ‘Nurses here are going to meet about it,’ she said. ‘Do you do five short days or three long ones? It may mean we will not see as much of each other and lose our support.’

Mr Johnson’s letter brings to a head an argument that has been simmering since government negotiators allowed practices to opt out of out-of-hours work in the 2004 GP contract.

Doctors will vote on the new arrangements this week. If agreement is not reached the government has threatened GPs it will allow PCTs to commission more general practice services from alternative providers.

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