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GP quits PCT roles in disgust at polyclinic plans

By Gareth Iacobucci

Ministers' determination to impose Darzi polyclinics on areas that don't want them has prompted a leading GP to resign in disgust from his PCT post.

Dr Andy Black quit as PEC member and clinical lead for Herefordshire PCT after the trust caved in to Government pressure to open a polyclinic despite fears it will lead to the closure of existing practices.

The controversy flared up as health secretary Alan Johnson claimed GPs were behind more than half the bids so far shortlisted to run polyclinics as the national tendering process gathers pace.

Pulse revealed in June that Herefordshire PCT had shelved its polyclinic tender after a local needs analysis revealed it would cost an estimated £1.1m in staff expenses alone, and that patients were already happy with GP access.

But despite concluding the centre was ‘neither affordable nor value for money', the PCT backed down under huge pressure from the Department of Health.

Dr Black, who practises in Leominster, said he had felt compelled to resign because local practices would now threatened with closure. ‘World Class Commissioning talks about local assessment of local need. Yet here we are, six months down the line with a clinic that we don't need,' he said.

‘I blame the DH for spinning a lie about not imposing - and I blame the PCT for rolling over.'

He added: ‘There are 24 practices and the anger among GPs is unheard of. I can see at least at least one surgery in Hereford having to close. Because we're overdoctored, it would only take 1,000 patients to move to destabilise.'

A Herefordshire PCT spokesperson said: 'Some GPs are concerned the new service will work against their interests but we anticipate most patients will opt to remain registered with their own practice and use the new centre on a walk-in basis'.

He said the discussions with local GP clinical advisers had led the trust to conclude that opening a new walk-in centre without a list-based GP service would have put patients at risk.

Dr Paul Harris, a GP in Hereford who says his practice is under threat from the Darzi centre, hailed Dr Black's ‘courageous' decision. ‘We think this is a fantastic act. It's about time someone stood up and was honest, instead cow-towing to our masters. The PCT wanted clinical advice that was giving them the answer they wanted to hear.'

But Mr Johnson vehemently denied the new centres would threaten existing GP services, telling last week's NHS Alliance conference the tender shortlists were being dominated by GPs.

He told delegates: ‘As for the allegation that this will herald the privatisation of the NHS, let me tell you that at the current stage over half of those being shortlisted for the contracts are GP practices and GP consortiums, as we expected.

The health secretary's enthusiasm for GP-led bids completes a U-turn over the role of the private sector in the rollout (see box).

Dr Andy Black, who has quit his post on the PEC of Herefordshire PCT Dr Andy Black, who has quit his post on the PEC of Herefordshire PCT

I blame the DH for spinning a lie about not imposing - and I blame the PCT for rolling over.

Polyclinic Alan Johnson's U-turn over GPs' role in polyclinics

January 2008

Mr Johnson gushes to the Guardian over his enthusiasm for private providers: ‘Lots of [polyclinics] will be run by the private sector ... We will bring in GPs employed by private organisations.'

June 2008

He tells The Times the BMA's opposition to polyclinics is as misplaced as the profession's initial resistance to the founding of the NHS: ‘There's a quote from the then leader of the BMA who said "I've looked at this very carefully and it reminds me of national socialism as practised in Germany".'

October 2008

The health secretary completes his U-turn when he tells the NHS Alliance conference:
‘We believe GPs to be in the pole position and GP practices and GP consortia are being shortlisted, exactly as we expected. The GPs submitted the best bids.'

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