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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Competition panel rules in GPs' favour in branch surgery battle

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP) has ruled in favour of a local GP practice after concluding that a PCT's decision to prevent them from expanding their practice nearby was ‘inconsistent' with competition rules.

The panel ruled that NHS Kingston's decision to deny Churchill Medical Centre the chance to open a new branch surgery was at odds with the Principles and Rules for Co-operation and Competition, and urged the DH and NHS London to ensure that the PCT allowed the practice to proceed with its plans.

Pulse first reported the conflict last year, after the PCT blocked the practice's plans to open a new branch surgery on the grounds that it might have threatened the viability of a new APMS service, run by private provider AT Medical.

The review – which followed a complaint by the practice that the decision was anti-competitive and restrictive to patient choice - said it had taken into account the best interests of local patients, as well as value for money for taxpayers.

The panel concluded that the decision to deny the opening of a branch surgery would have prevented around 1,500 patients from accessing their first choice for more convenient GP services, and may have undermined improvements in service quality for local patients more generally.

Dr Charles Alessi, a GP at the Churchill Medical Centre, who had previously described the PCTs position as 'untenable', said he was pleased with the outcome of the case.

He said: 'I'm very pleased we can put this behind us and concentrate of healthcare. We're happy we had a fair hearing, I hope the PCT will allow us to proceed.'

CCP Director, Andrew Taylor said: ‘We carefully considered NHS Kingston's concerns that allowing the new branch practice to open may negatively impact on the viability of a nearby practice and impose additional financial costs on NHS Kingston.'

‘However, the panel's view is that any potential adverse effects arising from the opening of the new branch surgery are likely to be small or immaterial. Any such effects would not be sufficient to outweigh the potential benefits to local patients and taxpayers of improved access, choice and quality derived from the introduction of the new branch surgery.'

Mr Taylor added: ‘Our recommendation takes into account a number of factors specific to this case, in particular Churchill Medical Centre's willingness to develop the new branch surgery at its own cost and having not sought reimbursement for this initial outlay, ongoing rent or other costs normally requested by GP practices from a Primary Care Trust.'

Charles Alessi

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