Three co-ops under threat in battle for out-of-hours deal
Three GP co-operatives face closure after being forced into a head-to-head battle with commercial deputising service Primecare over who can offer the best out-of-hours service.
The contract to provide the service from April next year has been put out to tender by three primary care trusts Maidstone Weald, Sussex Downs and Weald, and South West Kent.
The decision has left a consortium of three co-ops Maidstone Doctors on Call, Sussex Doctors on Call and Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells Doctors on Call competing against Primecare, which does not provide services in the area.
Dr Mark Reynolds, chair of the National Association of GP Co-operatives and a medical director of the Maidstone co-op, said all the co-ops would fold if Primecare won the contract. Dr Reynolds, who was made an MBE for his work developing out-of-hours care, added: 'It's an extraordinary position to find myself.'
But he said the co-ops must take some of the blame as they had not taken proactive steps to prevent the move to put the contract out to tender. 'It's just as much our fault as anyone else's.'
The PCTs have drawn up an outline specification for the service they want and have invited the co-op consortium and Primecare to present broadbrush plans. Formal cost- ed bids will be invited later.
The co-ops want to use their existing set-up with one or two GP-led primary care centres using GPs and nurse advisers to do home visits, integrated with NHS Direct and walk-in centres.
Primecare medical director Dr Mike Sadler said the company worked in the neighbouring Brighton area. 'We are confident we can provide services in parts of the UK where we have not before, using our strengths of national infrastructure and flexibility.'
Bob Deschene, primary care strategic development manager at Sussex Downs and Weald PCT, said full criteria for the service were being finalised and a decision on the contract would be made in December.
Kent LMC spokesman Dr Paul Hobday, a GP in Maidstone, said: 'We have a superb co-op service and all GPs locally are worried about losing that.'