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Starting gun fired on competition as firm wins contract

By Anna Hodgekiss

The first of a wave of Government-brokered contracts for private firms to run GP services has been awarded to care homes provider Care UK.

In the £5 million, five-year deal, the Colchester-based firm will run a 7,000-patient practice and 100-patient-a-day walk-in centre in Barking, east London.

The practice, which will employ three GPs and seven nurse practitioners, is scheduled to open in July in LIFT premises leased from Barking and Dagenham PCT.

The Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contract is one of six in the first wave of the Innovation in Primary Care Contracting programme.

Announcing the deal, the Department of Health said it signalled the start of competition for GP services.

Future waves of the programme, designed to increase capacity in underdoctored areas, are scheduled to be announced in the autumn.

Geoff Benn, group marketing director at Care UK, said

it planned to recruit GPs

from overseas and non-deprived areas.

He said: 'We have had discussions with a number of GPs who want to focus on the clinical aspect of the job rather than the business side.'

Mr Benn said the company, which beat off four challengers, also planned to bid for enhanced services and get involved with practice-based commissioning.

Martin Murray, a partner at accountants Sandison Easson & Co, said the £5 million price was 'reasonable' considering the list size, location and provision of a walk-in centre.

GPs in the area said they were confident of hanging on to their patients in the face of the competition.

Dr Tushor Ghosh, a GP in Dagenham, said: 'There is a threat that a private company could come in and take over.

'But it's the environment that attracts people to a surgery, and private providers will never be able to replace the personal service of the traditional family doctor.'

Dr Israr Moghal, a GP in Barking, said: 'Patients remain loyal to their GPs and don't want to be seen by a stranger.'

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chair, said it was 'saddening' that the Government's had chosen to focus on private providers competing with existing services.

The Barking deal

· £5m over 5 years

· 3 GPs, 7 nurse practitioners

· 7,000-patient list

· 100 patient-a-day walk-in centre

· longer morning and evening opening

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