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Hewitt: mobile units set to be routine part of primary care

A major increase in mobile diagnostic facilities will be proposed in the forthcoming Community Health White Paper.

In a speech last week setting out the Department of Health's agenda for 2006, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said the mobile units should become 'a routine part of primary care'.

Ms Hewitt said the move would build on the success of mobile treatment units, provided by the private sector, in increasing capacity and cutting hospital waiting times in areas such as cataract care.

'These mobile units are increasingly sophisticated and they bring specialist diagnostics to people much closer to home,' Ms Hewitt told an NHS Confederation seminar. 'They are a much more flexible and much less capital-intensive alternative to hospital provision.'

Dr Nigel Watson, chair of Wessex LMCs, said mobile cataract units in his area had proved helpful for patients in remote areas but were not without controversy.

In some cases they had turned up at hospitals unannounced, and there was confusion over who was responsible for follow-up care. He said: 'In the fact that they can just turn up with all the facilities it's better for patients. But if there are complications the van has gone.'

The Community Health White Paper is expected to propose a huge increase in the number of private providers of primary care in order to improve access in areas with GP shortages.

Ms Hewitt denied there would be any targets for the extent of private sector involvement akin to the 15 per cent for elective care ­ saying there would only to a 'growing range diverse providers'.

She said: 'I don't think you can take the 10 per cent figure, which I gave as an estimate for independent sector elective care, to primary care,' she said.

'I don't think it makes sense to start talking about caps or targets.'

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