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Dispatches from the polyclinic frontline

Pulse visited the frontline of the ongoing battle against polyclinics. And it was very sweaty.

By Steve Nowottny

Pulse visited the frontline of the ongoing battle against polyclinics. And it was very sweaty.

Dozens of angry patients crammed into a small room built to hold half their number at the University of London Union in Camden, north London. Others spilled over into a neighbouring room or craned their necks from the corridor.

Candy Udwin, organiser of the Camden Keep Our NHS Public event, apologised. ‘We weren't expecting this number,' she said. ‘We only called the meeting at a week's notice.'

But in this part of north London, polyclinics are big news. The reason? Camden PCT's controversial plans to move at least four local GP practices into one of the first of London's new polyclinics at University College London Hospital.

Dr Denise Bavin, one of half a dozen local GPs at the meeting, and Frank Dobson, former health secretary and local MP, ran through the arguments. But the patients were largely familiar with the story.

Three practices had already been taken over by UnitedHealth. The PCT insisted there would be full consultation before it went ahead with plans for a total of four federated polyclinics – but residents feared otherwise. The local paper had reported on its front page the news (originally broken by Pulse) that the PCT had held meetings with private providers about running the polyclinic as far back as January.

Will the dozens of angry pensioners behind the Camden Keep Our NHS Public campaign be able to halt the march of the private sector in their Bloomsbury backyard? At the moment, everything hangs in the balance. There are plans to picket crucial meetings of the PCT and NHS London – but as Mr Dobson admitted, polyclinic opponents are very much ‘up against it.'

But one thing was certain. Patients – or patients who visit their local surgery regularly and have a relationship with their family doctor – are angry. Here at least, they looked ready to follow their GPs into battle.

And as the GPs stood rather awkwardly at the front of the room, it was clear they were genuinely touched, even embarrassed, by their unconditional support.

Dr Denise Bavin: among GPs who caused a crush in Camden Dr Denise Bavin: among GPs who caused a crush in Camden

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