Private firm's boss backs GPs
By Ian Cameron
The head of one of the leading private firms interested in running GP practices has insisted general practice will remain unchanged despite the Government's NHS reforms.
Simon Stevens, president of UnitedHealth Europe, told a BMA conference it was a 'fallacy' that traditional general practice was under threat.
Mr Stevens, whose company is embroiled in controversy after winning a contract to take over two small practices in Derby, said change would happen only 'around the edges'.
He said: 'The bulk of hospital work will still be delivered
by hospitals and the bulk of general practice will still be delivered through GP practices in structures that will look pretty similar.'
Mr Stevens, a former special adviser to the Prime Minister and an architect of the Government's agenda for primary care, described GPs as 'the risk sink' of the NHS and sung the praises of their new contract.
He said: 'The GP contract is, despite its detractors, a good contract structure and if we had more of those incentives across the board, better things would result. [It] is probably working better than the hospital [consultants] contract.'
GPs at the conference were not convinced by the claims that general practice would remain unchanged.
Dr Kailash Chand, GPC member and a GP in Ashton-under-Lyme, Lancashire, said: 'I was not reassured at all. The designs we see on the roadmap are not traditional general practice and they are not even trying to defend our core values.'
Dr Tony Calland, a GP in Monmouth, Wales, said: 'The writing is on the wall that in England the direction of travel is towards a substantial private provider service.'
UnitedHealth has already said it wants to set up a network of super-surgeries.
Professor Chris Ham, former head of the Department of Health's strategy unit, said
the language of 'mergers and acquisitions' had to enter GPs' vocabulary.
He said: 'Strong providers may wish to take over neighbouring practices to produce monopolies.
'If you have a commissioning unit covering 150,000 I can see a joint venture developing with an independent sector treatment centre.'