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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Private firms' ambitions for general practice exposed

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: Private companies' ambitions to muscle in on general practice are dramatically exposed by new figures revealing they have bid for Lord Darzi's GP-led health centres in vast numbers.

The private sector has swamped the bidding process, with nearly 1,800 formal expressions of interest for centres outside London alone, at an average of 15 per PCT.

Companies have launched almost twice as many bids as GPs and GP-led consortiums put together. They make up 40% of positions on bidder shortlists, outnumbering existing GPs, con- sortiums and the voluntary sector, and are in pole position to dramatically expand private sector provision in the NHS.

Pulse obtained the figures from the Department of Health after appealing against an initial judgment that the information was commercially confidential.

Their release came as health secretary Alan Johnson unveiled the first GP-led health centre, in Bradford, which will be run entirely by salaried GPs.

But while the launch of the centre opened up a radically different new chapter of primary care provision, there was hope too in the figures for traditional general practice.

GP consortiums in particular are excelling in the tender process – with half of all those registering an expression of interest making it on to the PCT shortlist, compared with just 12% of private companies. A fifth of ‘existing GPs' who bid also make it through to shortlists.

Companies in the bidding process – including the likes of UnitedHealth UK, Care UK, Chilvers McCrea and Atos – have so far won just two of the 13 GP-led health centre contracts awarded.

But private companies are likely to have success through force of numbers alone – with the figures revealing they make up 223 of the 552 bidders on shortlists outside of London.

If contract awards reflected that proportion, GP-led health centres would see PCT spending on the private sector jumping by more than 20%. If a similar proportion also won contracts for the new practices in underdoctored areas – as UnitedHealth UK just has in Leicester – spending on private provision would rocket by around 50%.

Professor Chris Ham, professor of health policy and management at the University of Birmingham, predicted private companies were likely to end up running a ‘significant minority' of GP-led health centres.

‘The fears many people had about the end of general practice as we know it are not borne out by the data. But even a small minority of private sector presence from the Government's point of view is likely to be helpful, because it's one of the levers they're going to use to increase accessibility and responsiveness.'

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden warned: ‘My concern is they bid, they get the contract, then they fail to deliver – because that means it's the patients who are inconvenienced.'

Alan Johnson (centre) opens the first GP-led health centre Alan Johnson (centre) opens the first GP-led health centre Hillside Bridge Health Centre - the first 'GP-led' Health Centre - private firms are swamping the bidding for other similar new surgeries Hillside Bridge Health Centre - the first 'GP-led' Health Centre - private firms are swamping the bidding for other similar new surgeries

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