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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Fears over Boots APMS ambitions

By joanna clarke-jones

Plans by high street giant Boots to roll out GP surgeries in its stores across the country have triggered concerns that it has designs on becoming an APMS service provider.

The chemist chain says it is already in talks with around 20 PCTs with the potential to host GP services in up to 150 stores.

It follows a successful pilot project in Dorset, with the Boots store in central Poole offering a satellite GP surgery in a healthcare centre leased to the PCT since the beginning of the year.

Alex Gourlay, director of healthcare and store development at Boots, said as a result of the pilot, GPs with premises that needed upgrading had been contacting the company about leasing space through a similar arrangement.

'It would be very much led by GPs, PCTs and patients. It's about making healthcare more of a one-stop shop,' he said.

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said he had no problem with the arrangement if Boots was simply leasing premises space.

'If Boots is looking to expand in terms of being landlords and having practices co-locating rather than providing GP services, I do not have a problem with that in view of our premises problem,' he said.

But Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the GPC's commissioning and service development sub-committee, warned that using private companies to provide premises could 'make the Government less inclined to invest in much-needed estate and accelerate the fragmentation of general practice'.

He added that Boots could be testing the waters for becoming a full-blown service provider and leading the march of high-street chains into general practice.

But Mr Gourlay said the company had no intention of going down that route, although he did not rule it out in future.

'That is not in our plans at this stage. We are providing space for GPs as self-employed practitioners. I would not want to say it will never happen but it is not our intention.'

In April, reports suggested supermarkets were poised to launch GP surgeries on their premises, although plans were denied by leading chains, including Tesco.

Dr Elizabeth Barrett, a GP in Shirebrook, Derby, said she was concerned about profit-making enterprises taking over general practice: 'If it does not make money they will just close it.'

She said the Government had to have an eye on the end game and prevent private providers gaining a monopoly in primary care.

'The view that private companies can deliver shiny and wonderful services while the public sector is a great big juggernaut is a tired and insulting concept.

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