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GP partnerships are wrong for NHS market

The GP partnership model is unsuited to delivering services in the new primary care marketplace and is set to die off, a leading health consultant claims.

Kingsley Manning, a former special adviser to the Health Select Committee, said GP partnerships hindered the ability of practices to take on more work from hospitals and take part in practice-based commissioning.

Mr Manning, chief executive of health care consultants Newchurch, told a London conference on the development of a primary care market that GPs faced pressures to expand their business and compete with the private sector.

But as there was no extra money to help them do it, they needed to create more 'corporate' structures to increase productivity and cut costs.

Mr Manning said: 'The 1948 model of three, four or five partners as equity partners is unlikely to survive.

'The investment required to move forward will be significant. The exposure to clinical risks and liabilities will increase as more care is moved outside of hospitals and if you do more business through practice-based commissioning and take on more employees partnerships are very inflexible.'

These developments coincided with fewer new GPs wanting to become partners, he added. 'I don't think we are going to see the end of practices overnight but I do see the inevitable end of a cottage industry.'

Roy Lilley, an independent health analyst, backed Mr Manning's view.

He described partnerships as 'the curse of the NHS', adding that GPs would 'rather buy their mistress a fur coat' than reinvest profits back into the practice.

GPs accepted the partnership model had limitations, but said practices would set up more joint arrangements to help them compete.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chair, said his north London practice was already a member of a 'corporate group' and there were many examples of practices becoming 'fused together'.

He said: 'I don't see the partnership as out of date but it needs to evolve. You will find other ways of doctors working together in fewer but bigger blocks of practices.'

Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, a GP in Braintree, Essex, said partnerships would 'link together in working groups of localities or like-minded groups'.

He said Mr Lilley's view that GPs did not reinvest was 'absolute rubbish'.

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