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Private centres 'a threat to NHS'

A new wave of privately run 'clinical assessment treat and support' centres (CATS) could worsen the NHS financial crisis and threaten jobs, the BMA is warning.

It also believes the planned centres in Cumbria and Lancashire could lead to damaging conflicts of interest.

The provider, Netcare, already runs a surgical treatment centre in Manchester and is a preferred bidder for an integrated assessment and treatment centre in the city.

Under the plans for a network of 10 CATS in the north west, 60 per cent of GP referrals would be triaged by the centres rather than hospital consultants.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said the centres could have a huge impact on the on the availability of services and on patients' relationships with their doctors.

He said: 'The Government's NHS reforms are supposed to be all about patient choice, but

under these plans, it seems a private company would get to pick and choose between patients, rather than the other way round.'

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chair of the BMA's consultants committee, said the long-term implications of allowing private firms to take work and staff away from the NHS had not been thought through.

He added: 'It would fundamentally threaten the safe continuity of patient care provided by GP-to-consultant referral.'

The centres are due to open in March and will handle GP

referrals to ENT, orthopaedics, rheumatology and general surgery.

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