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GPs' expansion plans blocked to protect private firm

By Gareth Iacobucci

A PCT has been accused of protecting a private provider from competition by preventing a local practice from expanding nearby.

The move appears to directly fly in the face of the Government's professed desire to encourage competition and raises questions about the promises PCTs may have made to the private sector.

GPs at the Churchill Medical Centre in Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey, have claimed they have had plans to open a new branch surgery vetoed.

They claim they have been prevented from competing fairly with new provider AT Medical, which was recently awarded an APMS contract to run a nearby practice.

The GPs approached the PCT last December with a proposal to set up a new self-funded branch surgery to provide services to 1,500 of their patients.

The practice leased new premises after being given the green light from Kingston PCT. But the GPs later received a letter from its chief executive informing them they would have to shelve plans on the basis of ‘preventing competition with whoever is successful in the tender process'.

The PCT placed a small nearby practice out to tender under APMS in January this year, but the Churchill practice claims it had by this point already had approval to proceed with the branch surgery.

The contract for the tendered service was eventually awarded to AT Medical in July, and took effect from 1 October.

The PCT admitted in recent board minutes that its decision to refuse permission for a branch surgery ‘may be challenged', but that allowing the existing practice to expand ‘could challenge the viability of the new service'.

But Dr Charles Alessi, a GP at the Churchill Medical Practice in Kingston, described the decision as ‘untenable and ridiculous'.

He said: ‘The PCT is restricting and reducing choice for our patients living in the area, especially the elderly and young mothers.

‘Apart from being totally against the key NHS principles of choice and wider provision of services by a range of providers, we consider this action to be clearly anti-competitive.'

A spokesperson for Kingston PCT said: ‘Churchill Medical Centre has been in correspondence with NHS London and has been given clear guidance on how to proceed if it is unhappy about the process. To date we have still not had a formal approach from the practice. Until it does so we cannot address the issues.'

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