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Patient backlash over polyclinics shocks GP trailblazer

By Steve Nowottny

A leading GP proponent of plans to relocate practices into polyclinics this week admitted he had been shocked by the backlash from patients.

Dr Mohammed Tahir, a GP in Kensington and Chelsea – which is trailblazing plans to replace surgeries with polyclinics and has already informed patients of closures – said the initial reaction had been far more negative than expected.

GPs in his practice have been taken aback by the angry reaction of patients to the news their surgery would be closing – with concerns centring on increased travelling time and the effect on continuity of care.

The backlash from patients in Kensington and Chelsea – where polyclinic plans are among the most advanced in the country – follows a full-scale patient protest in Haringey PCT, which has approved plans that could close 37 local surgeries.

Patients at five practices in Kensington and Chelsea were the first to receive letters informing them their local surgeries would be closed, with practices set to move to a polyclinic at St Charles Community Hospital in autumn 2009.

Some GPs at the practices back the move, arguing there will be significant benefits in locating practices on one site.

But Dr Tahir, a GP at the Barlby Road surgery, said: ‘It's taken me totally by surprise how reluctant patients seem to be to move to St Charles. The surprising thing is the level of wish from patients to keep these premises separate. They're worried about loss of identity and continuity.'

Dr Tahir said he believed the polyclinic would bring ‘good opportunities' for patients, particularly in terms of access to diagnostics. But he said in light of the opposition from patients, no ‘definite decisions' had been made about whether to continue to co-operate with the PCT's plans. ‘I don't want to definitely move if things are going to get worse for my patients. But I am sure that we will get it right.'

Diana Middleditch, chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea PCT, admitted there had been ‘quite a lot of people ringing' raising concerns over the new polyclinic, but said most patients were positive.

But patient representative groups told Pulse they were strongly opposed to plans for polyclinics.

Katherine Murphy, a spokesperson for the Patients Association, said: ‘If the Government had listened to what patients and the public want, rather than offering just tokenism, they would realise patients don't want polyclinics.'

Helen Bate, founder of the patient-led Save Our Surgeries campaign, said: ‘If they get one of those letters they're going to be very shocked and very upset.'

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