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Foundation trust given green light for practice takeover

By Gareth Iacobucci

A foundation trust is poised to complete a controversial takeover of a GP practice in Sunderland, after the Cooperation and Competition Panel (CCP) ruled the move will not create conflicts of interest.

The move, which will see City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust merge with Church View Medical Practice in Sunderland, is one of the first of the Government's integrated care pilots to be set up in England, but has attracted criticism from the NHS Alliance, who said the scheme would create problems by enabling the foundation trust to refer to itself.

The Alliance warned that the pilot risked impacting on GPs role as an independent advocate for patients, and could compromise the practice's ability to 'meaningfully engage' in practice-based commissioning.

But the merger, which will see all practice-based clinical staff directly employed by the trust, has been given the go-ahead following a ruling by the newly established panel.

Andrew Taylor, CCP director, said that while there was a risk of creating incentives for GPs to refer to their employer, the panel was confident that appropriate measures were being put in place, and that GPs would refer appropriately.

‘The proposed merger will not impose any significant costs on patients or taxpayers by reducing the scope for patient choice or competition, and will allow the benefits that might be realised from an ICO to be explored,' he said.

‘There is a risk with any ICO that employs GPs that those GPs will have an incentive to refer patients to their employing hospital. However, we believe that the measures being taken by City Hospitals to protect patient choice combined with the professional obligations on GPs to refer patients appropriately is sufficient to address this risk.'

Mr Taylor said the panel was also reassured by the large number of other GP practices nearby, which patients could register with if they wished to attend a surgery not linked to the foundation trust.

He added: ‘Further, the small size of the Church View practice and the fact that more than 80% of Church View patients referred for secondary treatment already go to City Hospitals means that the potential for patient choice and competition to be distorted by this merger is limited.'

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