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GPs suspicious over Boots' plans

By Ian Cameron

Boots is to rent out rooms in its stores to the NHS in a move GPs suspect will lead to the pharmacy chain competing to provide primary care services.

The company last week revealed plans to open a health centre in Poole, Dorset, later this year housing GPs, consultants and other clinicians.

It is also negotiating

with several other PCTs about renting out consulting rooms.

Boots insists it only intends to be a landlord and will not provide care directly.

But GPs are worried that Boots is testing public reaction and will quickly expand its involvement if the scheme is a success.

Boots' announcement came as Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a set-piece speech in the company's home city of Nottingham emphasising how industry can partner with the NHS to create a more 'robust' approach to health.

He cited how Boots was 'pioneering a whole range of new ways to engage their customers'.

Poole PCT said the in-store health centre would improve access to NHS services for the elderly in particular.

But GPs said it would offer no better access than their practices as services at the Boots store would be limited to the shopping centre's opening hours.

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said he had strong reservations about the plan.

'If it's about core GP services is it in addition to, or relocating an existing practice? If it's extra services why not go to practices first? If it's an out-of-hours service there are better ways of doing it.'

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the GPC's commissioning service development subcommittee, said the move would fragment care and such centres would only improve access for the worried-well in more affluent areas.

He added: 'It may be the beginning of a much longer-term involvement into provision of GP care.'

Dr Strat Liddiard, a GP in Poole, said he would reserve judgment on Boots' move until the service had bedded-in, but the new service had to be closely monitored.

He said: 'Anything that improves services to patients should be welcomed and if it turns out not to I'm sure the PCT will terminate the contract, so let's see what the longer-term brings.'

Supermarket chain J Sainsbury pledged earlier this year to open a GP surgery in one its stores by the end of 2006.

Boots' plans

for Poole

• Up to nine consulting rooms available for Poole PCT to rent for orthopaedic care, sexual health screening, podiatry, health promotion, blood pressure monitoring and cardiac clinics.

• Walk-in services, extended opening hours for GP services and nurse prescribing may also be accommodated.

• Services could be provided by consultants or GPSIs.

• Second phase could include out-of-hours service and chronic conditions unit.

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