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PCTs held secret polyclinic talks with firms before public consultation

By Steve Nowottny

Two north London trusts held secret talks with private providers including Virgin Healthcare about running the country's first fully-fledged polyclinic before the public had been consulted, Pulse has learned.

The revelation adds to concerns that the consultations carried out by trusts were little more than a cosmetic exercise.

Documents reveal Camden PCT and University College London Hospital met with Virgin Healthcare in early January to discuss plans for the polyclinic at UCLH.

The meeting was held even though public consultation on the Healthcare for London plans did not close until March - while a local consultation on the UCLH proposals has yet to begin.

The trusts told Virgin Healthcare they wanted to ‘close the doors of A&E to all except ambulance admissions and GP referrals', with all other patients – an estimated 70,000 attendances per year – going through the polyclinic.

Minutes of a Virgin Healthcare internal meeting in mid-January conclude ‘this is an opportunity for us' but warn ‘running this scale of emergency service not attractive [sic] and carries serious risk'.

A Virgin Healthcare spokesperson told Pulse the company was ‘not involved' with the plans. But the trusts are believed to be pressing ahead with the polyclinic.

Dr Paddy Glackin, secretary of Camden and Islington LMC, said: ‘The whole process around UCLH has been shrouded in secrecy.

‘It reinforces the concerns we have about transparency and inclusiveness – the PCT have not kept local GPs in the loop about this at all.'

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act last month revealed half of England's PCTs had decided not to hold any formal consultation with patients over polyclinic plans, while GP leaders have branded the consultation in London a ‘sham'.

A spokesperson for Camden PCT refused to disclose whether the trusts had held similar meetings with other private providers. US health giant UnitedHealth has already made inroads into primary care in Camden, after controversially winning an APMS contract to run three practices in January.

She said: ‘We do not comment on individual meetings, but would assure you no formal procurement procedures have started for any services that may be provided if the South Camden Integrated Care Centre goes forward.'

Elsewhere in London the campaign against polyclinics has stepped up a gear, with patients in Haringey picketing St Ann's Hospital for the fourth Tuesday in a row.

Patients from seven different practices joined the protest, demanding guarantees that local practices would not be forced to close.

Trusts held secret talks with private firms on polyclinics before the end of public consultation

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