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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Private companies 'now running more than 200 GP surgeries'

By Gareth Iacobucci

The growing commercialisation of primary care has been ‘substantially understated', with private firms now running over 200 surgeries and health centres across England and many companies rapidly expanding their business, a study has shown.

A report by the NHS Support Federation obtained data from PCTs on the spread of APMS contracts, which surged following the Labour Government's nationwide rollout of Darzi centres and APMS practices.

It found that 227 GP surgeries and health centres in England are now run by 23 commercial companies, with nine firms, including Chilvers McCrea, Care UK and Assura Medical (recently taken over by Virgin), holding ten or more contracts.

Other companies making big inroads into the primary care market include Intrahealth, the Practice PLC and Malling Health.

The report argues that the growth has been masked by some providers being referred to as ‘GP-led', when in reality, many described in this way have a commercial focus, with ‘profit-making intent and a traditional corporate management structure'.

It cited 18 examples of private companies started by groups of GPs that are ‘now in the process of business expansion'.

The report said that local GP practices are ‘finding it hard to afford to bid for contracts', and that they risk being ‘squeezed out as the NHS market matures'.

It also warned that the complex structure of ownership, where some private firms often team up with groups of GPs, makes it ‘difficult to track who controls the service and where public money is going'.

Assura Coventry opened the Summerfield GP practice and urgent care centre in Birmingham in February Assura Coventry opened the Summerfield GP practice and urgent care centre in Birmingham in February

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