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Cull of practices planned under integrated care scheme

By Gareth Iacobucci

NHS managers have drawn up plans to dramatically cut the number of GP practices as part of the Government's latest flagship health initiative.

South East Essex PCT is proposing to cut the number of local surgeries from 81 to 48 under plans to develop one of the Department of Health's new integrated care organisations in the area.

The plans would re-locate GPs to new purpose-built premises and have prompted fears that ICOs, proposed under Lord Darzi's NHS Next Stage Review, could lead to a wave of surgery closures elsewhere.

The DH has shortlisted 36 organisations for the scheme, with 15-20 expected to be chosen next month.

The South East Essex plans link the merging of practices with the policy.

The PCT's document says: ‘The ICO footprint will be closely coordinated with the development of practice-based commissioning. It would see a reduction in the number of primary care facilities from over 81 to approximately 48 over the next five years.'

Dr Brian Balmer, chief executive of Essex LMCs, warned the PCT's approach could severely disrupt existing services.

‘The integrated care policy is clearly not very well thought through. The danger is everything will be top-down. Imposing such a massive structural change would cause absolute havoc. We've done a careful analysis of the South East plan, because I expect the others to read the same.'

Ian Stidson, deputy director of primary care at South East Essex PCT, insisted there would be no imposition on practices.

He said: ‘We won't close single-handed practices, but if a doctor is retiring, we can help merge two small practices or help those wishing to grow.'

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