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Cracks emerge in polyclinic project

This was a week of grand gestures and sharp rhetoric.

This was a week of grand gestures and sharp rhetoric.

Dr Laurence Buckman dramatically raised the stakes in the BMA's protest over polyclinics and privatisation, with a rousing speech to the LMCs conference.

Its centrepiece was the unveiling of a remarkable 1.2 million petition signatures – not that health minister Ben Bradshaw was in any mood to be impressed.

He dismissed the number of patient signatures as unsurprising, given the ‘misleading and mendacious' nature of the BMA campaign, and has written to chair Dr Hamish Meldrum to protest in the strongest of terms.

Publicly, at least, the Government looks to have no intention of shifting ground over its plans for at least one polyclinic in every PCT.

But it is far from clear whether the Government is in a position to decide.

Ministers have repeatedly insisted it is up to individual trusts to implement policies that suit their local needs – and that commitment is about to get its sternest test.

As the noise grows from GPs and patients, and polyclinics become increasingly tainted by controversy, PCT managers are beginning to waver over the whole project. Pulse's SOS campaign against the imposition of polyclinics has been backed by more than 1,000 individual GPs as well as the RCGP, BMA, Patients Association, the Conservatives and the LibDems.

Momentum gathering

For weeks now, GP leaders have been waiting for the first PCTs to break ranks and tell the Department of Health polyclinics aren't for them.

Now it has happened, with Herefordshire PCT concluding its planned health centre would not be cost-effective, and Buckinghamshire PCT binning its tendering process amid doubts about whether the scheme would work.

Even where trusts have unveiled plans to implement Lord Darzi's proposals, the public backlash has been such that there is every chance of a U-turn. Haringey PCT, for one, has already admitted it may scrap its proposals to close 37 surgeries.

Polyclinics were never a bad idea for every area, and there will be some underdoctored PCTs that rightly decide to push ahead.

But across the country, the campaign against their imposition is gathering momentum.

If PCTs turn their backs on polyclinics, one by one, like bricks falling from a wall, the Government may see its national policy crumble to the ground.

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