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Private firms overtake GP consortiums in Darzi bids

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: Private companies have become the leading winners of Darzi contracts in the latest round of tenders, overtaking GP consortiums and puncturing Government claims that most new centres would be run by GPs.

The proportion of Lord Darzi's GP-led health centres and practices in under-doctored areas that have been awarded to the private sector has risen sharply over the last year, since the then health secretary Alan Johnson boasted most were going to GPs.

Of 55 equitable-access contracts analysed by Pulse since our last investigation in early 2009, 40% have gone to the private sector. In the previous batch of tenders, private companies won 24%.

Among 90 initial tenders, GP consortiums were the most successful, winning 39%. The voluntary sector took 12%, existing practices 10%, acute trusts 8% and PCT provider arms took 7%.

But the latest figures suggest the private sector's success has rapidly accelerated, with the likes of Assura, recently taken over by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin, and Care UK increasingly mopping up contracts around the country.

GP consortiums have continued to win contracts at a steady rate, taking 38% of the latest round of contracts, but the other sectors have all won a smaller share. The voluntary sector won 9% of the latest round, followed by existing local GPs with 7%, PCT provider arms with 4% and the acute sector with 2%.

The news comes just a week after the Labour party pledged to push through a second wave of Darzi centres if it wins the general election – a move welcomed by private companies but criticised by many GPs, who warned it would be irresponsible to roll out more centres before the first wave has been evaluated.

The figures cast doubt on the ability of GPs – and particularly local practices – to compete with a more confident private sector. It looks likely that private companies will strengthen their position further after the election as the Tories are also keen to expand the market.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, GPC negotiator and a GP in Stanmore, Middlesex, said the increase in the proportion of contracts being awarded to private providers was likely to be caused by PCTs placing undue emphasis on getting the cheapest price.

He said: ‘The biggest problem is that it is price driven. Many GP bidders are unwilling to undercut in a way that may risk quality. All too often we are seeing contracts awarded on the basis of lowest cost and not on quality.'

Dr Richard Loh, a GP in Halifax, West Yorkshire, who works close to a GP-led health centre run by Care UK, said he was concerned about the growing market share being gained by the private sector.

‘The long-term concern is that GPs are at risk from GP-led health centres and companies who are commercially minded. In principle, I'm against it – it's against the founding principles of the NHS. They are responsible to shareholders and are here to make money.'

Dr Richard Loh: Private companies are responsible to shareholders and are here to make money Dr Richard Loh: Private companies are responsible to shareholders and are here to make money Full list of Darzi contract winners

To download our full list of who's running the GP-led health centres and APMS practices for underdoctored areas across England's 152 PCTs, please click here.

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