Exclusive PCTs have begun paying out undisclosed figures in compensation for the early termination of Darzi centre contracts, as more centres across England close their doors due to financial pressures, Pulse can reveal.
One trust has admitted shelling out compensation to a provider after terminating their GP-led health centre contract ahead of time, while others are refusing to disclose whether or not they paying off providers after cancelling their contracts.
Another PCT told Pulse it was re-procuring its contract to reduce daytime walk-in hours in response to low demand.
The investigation shows the centres – rolled out in every PCT under the directive of former Labour health minister Lord Ara Darzi – but branded expensive white elephants by GP leaders – are increasingly being targeted for closure as cash-strapped PCTs try to bring their finances under control.
Of 68 PCTs to provide information to Pulse on the contractual status of their Darzi centre, more than one in eight (13%) have either terminated their contract or are planning to imminently, with many others renegotiating deals for financial reasons.
NHS Stockport revealed that it had paid out-of-hours provider Mastercall - the provider for its Darzi centre that was the first to close its doors last year due to duplication of service - had been paid compensation after the contract was terminated ahead of time, but refused to disclose financial details.
A spokeswoman said: ‘The contract holder has been compensated in accordance with contractual terms. Termination costs are confidential between NHS Stockport and our provider.'
Among those which refused to disclose whether they had shelled out compensation was NHS Barnsley, which recently closed its Darzi centre run by private firm Primecare due to over-use of its walk-in service. ‘The termination agreement between the two parties is confidential,' said a spokesman.
NHS Sandwell, which is due to terminate its contract in December 2011, refused to disclose whether it paid compensation to Kent-based provider Malling Health, saying: ‘We believe the release of this information would prejudice our ability as a trust to operate contracts appropriately.'
NHS Calderdale said it was re-procuring its Darzi centre contract after ‘mutual agreement to terminate' with private provider Care UK. A PCT spokeswoman said: ‘We have re-negotiated the contract to reduce the hours of the walk-in service only and this was in response to low demand at certain times of the day.'
Dr Nigel Watson, chair of the GPC commissioning and service development subcommittee, and a GP in the New Forest, said: ‘My understanding is there would need to be compensation paid if a contract is terminated early. It's a really good example of central directive wasting money at a local level.'
Dr John Pickard, chair of the Plymouth subcommittee of Devon LMC, and a GP in Plymouth, where the PCT closed its Darzi centre in February this year, said it was ‘a luxury we couldn't afford'. ‘I don't know if they were given compensation but I would be concerned if they were - in these cash strapped times, we can't afford it.'
GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘We predicted this scenario of the Darzi centres being superfluous to need. It clearly reiterates the huge waste of money. It seems a tragedy that so much has been invested, only to find contracts are being terminated.'
PCTs which have terminated or plan to terminate Darzi centre contracts
4. Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale