The British Medical Association (BMA) yesterday insisted it is ‘fighting to preserve the NHS’.

Responding to a news article in Pulse magazine on the BMA’s impasse with government on extended hours, Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GPs’ Committee, said: ‘The BMA is not encouraging or even asking GPs to leave the NHS.

‘We are fighting to preserve it. GPs care passionately about the NHS.

‘They have great fears about the government’s intent to introduce private firms into primary care which risks destroying the traditional model of UK general practice that is so highly valued and trusted by patients and admired across the world.

‘We are naturally looking at all the options if faced with an imposition by government, including advising GPs of the consequences of leaving the NHS.’

Commenting on a Which survey that asked patients about their health priorities, Buckman added: ‘GPs will always do their best to ensure that all their patients are able to get an appointment when they need one.

‘If anyone is asked if they would like more of a good thing, I understand why they say “yes”.

‘A recent survey of over two million people in England showed that the vast majority of patients were happy with their surgeries’ opening hours.

‘Only four out of every hundred patients wanted their practice to open in the evening, and seven out of a hundred on a Saturday morning.

‘GPs are spending more time with their patients and dealing with more complex cases, including taking on work that was previously provided by the local hospital.

‘If GPs were to extend their opening hours, without extra resources, there could be an adverse impact on the daytime service.

‘It could take appointments away from the patients who need and use their local surgery the most – older people, mothers with young children and those with chronic conditions.

‘If GP practices were to offer extended hours then other NHS services would need to be open too.

‘Laboratories would need to be open in the evenings and weekends to make sure patients’ tests could be dealt with quickly without having to ask the patient to return for another appointment, for example to give a blood sample.

‘GPs would also need their surgeries staffed with receptionists and other support staff.

‘When the BMA tried to offer a way forward on extended hours by opening longer and providing additional clinical services, the government turned us down.

‘Instead the government has chosen to impose a solution that would not improve quality care and would take resources away from the patients who are most in need.’