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Government in talks with retailers to provide new GP surgeries

By Steve Nowottny

Controversial health minister Lord Darzi is to hold talks with a string of private companies, including Sir Richard Branson's Virgin empire, about providing new GP surgeries to boost access.

The major conference, to be staged in the next few weeks, is also set to include the likes of Tesco, Lloyds Pharmacy and Boots and will look at how the private sector can be involved in the Government's plans to shake up GP opening hours.

The plan was revealed yesterday, on the same day that the Confederation for British Industry launched a massive attack on GP opening hours and funding models, calling for extended hours and for surgeries closer to the workplace.

Health secretary, Alan Johnson, yesterday backed the CBI's call, telling a press conference: 'We need to tackle this issue, it needs to be a health service for the 21st century, at a time when we've got 75% employment, and we're aiming towards 80%, that's today's definition of full employment, we have to ensure that the health service is in line with those changes, it's responding to those changes in the workplace.

'We announced last month when the GP survey came out that we would be looking into the problem with under-doctored areas, we'd be asking PCTs to report to us about how they will tackle these areas, what their plan of action is, we've sent out these improvement teams, going to areas where there are particular problems with access, so all of these will be part of what Ara looks at in his interim report. The CBI report today is a contribution to that debate.

'We need to get new doctors in to underdoctored areas, the fact that you've got half the number of doctors in Barking and Dagenham or in Oldham as there are in Wandsworth or Northumberland is wrong, and that's just basic access, and that leads to healthcare inequalities and we'll be taking action on that.'

Lord Darzi added: 'We're talking to all providers, we're talking to primary care providers with the BMA, we're talking to the voluntary sector, we're talking to the private sector – we may be looking at alternative ways of providing care in the best interests of the patient.'

Lord Darzi: health minister to hold talks with companies including Sir Richard Branson's Virgin empire Lord Darzi: to hold talks with companies including Virgin

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