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Darzi centre facing closure 'cheaper than neighbouring practices'

By Steve Nowottny

GPs at the first Darzi centre in England to face closure by a cash-strapped PCT have vowed to fight to stay open - insisting they provide a cheaper service than neighbouring GP practices.

NHS Peterborough has launched a public consultation on the future of the Alma Road Primary Care Centre, run by GP-led company 3Well Medical, and hopes to close the practice in January, in a move it estimates will save £800,000.

Although PCT managers plan to terminate the centre's APMS contract under a ‘no cause' clause, they have also cited poor levels of registration among patients as a cause for concern. It had aimed to register 1,500 patients by April this year, but had recruited just 736 patients by the start of this month.

But GPs at the centre claim they are the victims of short-sighted cost-cutting, as the PCT struggles to tackle a £12.8 million deficit.

Dr Rupert Bankart, GP and medical director at the centre, told Pulse that the GP-led health centre provided care for its registered patients at ‘two thirds or less' of the cost of neighbouring practices.

‘Peterborough PCT have got themselves £12.8 million in debt at the end of 09-10,' he said. ‘If they want a quick action, then it's the APMS with the "no cause" clause that can be cut and they can be seen to be doing something.'

‘If you remove us it's a bit like stripping out your loft insulation and selling it on Ebay in order to save some money. It's not going to work.'

Dr Bankart said that patients had expressed alarm at the proposed closure – and warned that the centre was also ‘exploring options' to appeal against any decision based on the consultation in the light of the Department of Health's recent paper on service redesign.

‘They are saying they will listen to the public,' he said. ‘We are getting a very strong response from our patients already. This is a service they have been given, and the PCT fought for even, only twelve months ago.'

Paul Whiteside, interim director of strategic change at NHS Peterborough, confirmed that the cost per registered patient at the GP-led health centre was cheaper than the £79/head average in Peterborough, but declined to give an exact figure, citing commercial confidentiality.

‘The centre does provide a cheaper service for registered patients than some of the neighbouring practices, but its current list size is not sustainable as a stand-alone primary care entity,' he said.

‘The consultation will close on 29 October 2010. If the outcome is for Alma Road to close as per the recommendations within the consultation, the centre would probably close early January 2011.'

NHS cuts

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