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Camden victory casts doubt on legality of Darzi rollout

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: Legal challenge forces PCT to consult public and shelve plans to award contract to private firm

A PCT has been forced to shelve plans to award a Darzi centre contract to a private firm and ask patients if they want the new service, in a landmark case with major implications for the legality of the national rollout.

NHS Camden has admitted it acted unlawfully by ‘making a decision to invest' in the Darzi centre without having conducted a public consultation on the proposal.

It has agreed to consult on whether it should pursue a GP-led health centre at all, following a legal battle with campaigners. The U-turn means it is unable to press ahead with plans to award the contract to private company Care UK.

The case threatens to undermine Government demands that every PCT should have one of the centres, with a series of others in which contracts have not yet been signed potentially now open to legal challenge.

The Conservatives said the case showed the Government had been wrong to force GP-led health centres on communities against their wishes.

Lawyers acting for antiprivatisation supporters brought plans by the PCT – which has one of the biggest involvements of the private sector in primary care in the NHS – grinding to a halt after threatening High Court action.

NHS Camden had announced in August that it planned to award its contract for the GP-led health centre to Care UK, which has won a string of contracts across the country.

But in documents seen by Pulse, lawyers for the PCT conceded on all but one of the claims over the proposed state-of-the-art Stephenson House health centre, which was due to open later this year.

In a letter to the legal firm representing the campaigners, led by former Camden councillor Bob Austin, the PCT's lawyers said: ‘The defendant will in due course carry out a fresh consultation on whether to pursue... a GP-led health centre in Camden and, if so, where it should be located and what services it should provide.'

Rosa Curling, a solicitor for Leigh Day and Co, representing the campaigners, said: ‘Camden was trying to argue they didn't need to consult on the principle, just the location and the services available. What we argued is they need to consult over whether a centre should open at all. It may be that other trusts are acting similarly, and we would say that's unlawful. [NHS Camden] has agreed to concede the claim, so it starts again on the basis of whether there should be a centre.'

NHS Camden said it had decided to ‘seek the views of local residents again' on two new health centres, including the one at Stephenson House.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, GPC negotiator and a GP in Stanmore, Middlesex, said: ‘This highlights how political imperative has ridden roughshod over the need for a consultation process. There is scope in Camden to prevent yet another white elephant. Unfortunately, in most PCTs contracts have been signed, so the opportunity to challenge has passed.'

Tory shadow health minister Mark Simmonds told Pulse: ‘This case demonstrates the Government's forced imposition of polyclinics was a mistake. We believe local primary care services should be developed in conjunction with patients, and would have allowed PCTs to use the additional resources to develop existing services if that would have been of greater benefit.'

Local MP Frank Dobson, a campaigner against privatisation, said: ‘It is farcical money is being spent on lawyers when it is as plain as a pikestaff they were in the wrong.'

The DH said it was up to PCTs to ‘demonstrate the benefits' of the new centres.

Frank Dobson MP was at the forefront of protests against the Camden plans Frank Dobson MP pic The is scope to prevent yet another white elephant Quote

Dr Chaand Nagpaul

NHS Camden at focal point of polyclinic row NHS Camden at focal point of polyclinic row

• The trust was heavily criticised for awarding three local GP practices to US giant UnitedHealth in February 2008, despite a bid by local GPs being rated higher for services offered
• In July 2008 Pulse revealed Camden PCT was also one of two north London trusts that held secret talks with private providers including Virgin Healthcare about running the country's first fully fledged polyclinic before the public had been consulted
• The trust announced it had awarded the contract for a GP-led health centre to Care UK in August this year
• Campaigners launched a legal challenge against the plan in October, claiming patients had not been consulted

Camden judicial review Legal letter

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