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GP franchise scheme given the go-ahead

By Steve Nowottny

Work is to begin later this month on controversial plans to convert local GP practices into McDonalds-style franchises.

Heart of Birmingham Teaching PCT is to push ahead with a ‘collaborative programme' to help thrash out details of the strategy, which sparked huge controversy when it was first unveiled last November.

Critical media coverage forced PCT bosses to tone down some of the plan's corporate language and recruit GP opponents of the plan to act as external consultants. But the strategy's core elements – which include herding 76 separate practices into 24 ‘primary care units', with corporate branding for practices – remain.

The strategy has been praised by NHS bosses as a good example of wider Government policy, with NHS West Midlands backing the proposals as ‘bold and highly ambitious.' It was also one of three models quoted in the NHS Confederation report published this week defending polyclinic plans.

Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMC, said: ‘The PCT came to realise the way they launched this was a public relations disaster, with all the references to fast food franchises, so they've backtracked on all of that. But they're still saying the content as it is will be going forward.'

‘It hasn't got a clue how they're going to get so many disparate practices to work together in buildings.'

A PCT spokesman said the collaborative programme would enable GPs to develop the franchise strategy alongside managers.

‘It's not a consultation – it's far more than that,' he said. ‘The model will be devised through this collaborative approach. We think this is pretty innovative for primary care.'

But local GP Dr Vijay Abrol said even practices who had signed up to be involved in the collaborative programme remained deeply suspicious.

Thirty local GPs have formed a company to prepare to bid for new services as necessary, he said. ‘I am of the opinion that they can't move me from my current practice,' he said.

‘However if they are desperate then they can come up with a good handshake. The PCT is definitely bruised and has changed its public stance to be conciliatory without meaning it to be so. They are hell bent on destroying the personal relationship of small and single-handed practices.'

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