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Polyclinic push begins

NHS managers have begun the process of herding GPs in small practices into polyclinics, with singlehanded practices being warned they will not survive the process.

Singlehanders in London are already coming under pressure from PCTs pushing ahead with proposals in Lord Ara Darzi's Healthcare for London review.

Although a consultation on the proposals, led by London's 31 PCTs, is not even due to start until next month, trusts have already been informing GPs of plans to relocate them.

In west London, Kensington and Chelsea PCT has told GPs of plans to move singlehanded practices into a new polyclinic situated at St Charles Hospital in Kensington, which would cover between 40,000 and 50,000 patients, scheduled to open in March 2009.

Simon Broker-Ingram, executive leader for redesign for Kensington and Chelsea PCT, said it had told singlehanded practices they would ‘need to pool resources with other clinicians'.

He added: ‘For singlehanded GPs, I suppose it's about how they are going to respond to extended opening hours. I'm not sure how they will be able to continue in the same way.'

The PCT added that too many small practices failed to meet regulations on disabled access and they needed to modernise.

One Kensington-based GP, who wished to remain anonymous, said the PCT was talking ‘concretely' about polyclinics, adding it planned for all GPs, not just singlehanded practices, to be ‘shipped in to serve around 40,000 patients within the next two years'.

Other PCTs, including Islington, have already been pursuing a policy of trying to reduce the number of singlehanded practices. The London review has given extra ammunition to that process, having singled out small practices for criticism.

With Camden PCT planning to open the first polyclinic in a year's time, Dr Stewart Drage, joint chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, has warned NHS bosses of the dangers of enforcing a ‘one size fits all approach'.

Dr George Rae, a GPC council member, said: ‘Funding for singlehanded GPs who are in the position of wanting to expand their consulting rooms has totally dried up.'

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