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Private takeover of practices sparks storm of protest

The takeover of two Derby practices by the giant US-based firm UnitedHealth Europe is at the centre of a mounting storm of protest from GPs and patients.

Results of the tender process, leaked to Pulse, reveal United scored top marks for a record of providing 'good-quality' GMS services ­ despite never having run a practice in the UK.

None of the three GP-led bids shortlisted, including one from a local practice, scored as highly against this criterion.

United scored highest on six out of 11 criteria, including for a record of engaging public and patients and involving and developing the primary care team.

It beat off challenges from 18 other bidders in total for the Creswell/Langwith practice. Six bids were shortlisted. Another large health care firm, Four Seasons, came second.

But the process has been challenged by a patient, who has threatened a judicial review over the PCT's failure to consult with a patients' forum. More than 100 patients also attended a meeting with United last week.

GPs said the decision was a classic example of the problems practices would face in competing with private firms under Government plans to bring in a primary care market.

Dr Martin McShane, chief executive of North Eastern Derbyshire PCT, said United's score for its GMS track record stemmed from the fact its director of primary care was London GP Dr Peter Smith, president of the National Association of Primary Care.

Dr McShane said: 'What we were looking for was clear experience of British primary care and good management.'

But one GP involved in a competing bid said: 'Is Dr Peter Smith going to work in Derbyshire?'

The GP added: 'We were under no illusions this was likely to go to a private company. We were told by one person at the PCT we wouldn't get it because we didn't bid for both practices.'

Dr John Grenville, Derby-shire LMC secretary, said he was still waiting for answers from the PCT on how it scored the bids. He added: 'It will be up to Dr Peter Smith to divide enough time and make sure it's working well.'

Dr Justin Amery, GP and chair of BK Health, which came fifth in the scoring, said 'eyebrows were raised' at the choice of United. He added: 'We specialise in urban deprived areas and know what can transfer from one practice to another.'

Dr Richard Smith, chief executive of United, said Dr Peter Smith was in Derby to oversee the scheme and could draw on the 'considerable competencies' of United. He said: 'Local knowledge gives you an advantage but there are other factors.'

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