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GPs urged to band together to fight off private firms

Practices are being urged to mount a pre-emptive strike against private firms by forming in-hours co-operatives to bid for additional and enhanced services.

The move, which has won the backing of the GPC, would enable GPs to take advantage of the end to the ban on sale of goodwill and stop companies taking over more lucrative aspects of their work.

Under the plans put forward by Berkshire and Buckinghamshire LMC, all practices in a PCO would continue to provide essential services but would form a co-operative for additional and enhanced services.

Dr Chris Tiarks, medical secretary of the LMC, said the co-op would be big enough to challenge companies that might be able to provide enhanced services as a 'loss leader'.

He added: 'GPs need to change their thinking radically if they want to continue to develop primary care services and fight off the opposition.

'These private companies might be eyeing up the possibilities. This would prevent BUPA or Primecare getting at it.'

The GPC confirmed the new GMS contract would enable GPs to join forces in this way. GPC chair Dr John Chisholm said co-ops could be formed under alternative primary medical services or Specialist PMS contracts.

GPC Wales chair Dr Andrew Dearden said GPs would have the 'competitive edge' in terms of staff, IT and a patient base if they banded together.

Ministers would be unlikely to oppose the move, having already encouraged out-of-hours providers, including co-ops, to offer more in-hours GP services.

Dr Basil Hainsworth, professional executive committee chair of Leicester City West PCT, said: 'We have got to live in the new world and it's up to GPs how they are going to play the game.'

By Nerys Hairon

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