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Target for 15% of GP services to be run by companies

Ministers have set a target for more than 1,200 privately-run NHS GP surgeries to be set up in all parts of the country, Pulse can reveal.

The target for 15 per cent of GP services to pass into private hands goes far beyond Government claims to only want firms in underdoctored areas.

A senior Department of Health source said ministers would be 'delighted' if private sector provision reached 15 per cent ­ a level that matches its target for secondary care.

Meeting the target would mean firms employing around 5,000 GPs, 2,000 nurses and providing 43.5 million appointments per year.

GPs said the objective raised the prospect that companies such as UnitedHealth Europe and J Sainsbury would displace existing GP practices rather than add.

The Our Health, Our Care, Our Say White Paper makes it clear practices will be expected to compete for patients as a way of driving up standards.

Yet many GPs are struggling in inadequate premises and fear they would find it almost impossible to compete with a new, well-resourced practice set up by a large corporation.

Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC deputy chair, said the policy was welcome only if it was entirely added capacity. But he described the 15 per cent target as 'an unrealisable fantasy'.

He said: 'I can't see where nurses and doctors are going to come from and if you are displacing GPs you are not improving system capacity.'

Dr Helen Groom, a GP in Oxford and vice-president of the Medical Practitioners Union, said companies would gain control over significant sums of NHS commissioning budgets if they had 15 per cent of provision.

She said: 'This is not additional capacity. Practices will be going out of business.'

Professor Bonnie Sibbald, professor of health services research at the National Primary Care Research and Development Centre in Manchester, said large firms would have the resources to attract GPs from outside the NHS and overseas.

Extra competition was needed to 'incentivise practices to keep patients', she added.

Dr Rory McCrea, GP chair of ChilversMcCrea, which runs 18 practices, said 15 per cent independent sector provision would be more than anywhere in the world: 'Maybe Britain will be the first, but I doubt it.'

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