NHS England has appointed 21 providers that will step in and take over the running of struggling GP practices at short notice in the south of England.
The scheme, first revealed by Pulse, has seen NHS England appoint 10 GP-led organisations, including superpractices, GP federations and out-of-hours co-operatives.
But the list also includes two foundation trusts, corporate giant Virgin Care and smaller private companies or social enterprises currently running care homes, APMS-contracted GP practices, urgent care and walk-in centres.
The idea is for the providers to be pre-contracted by NHS England to be able to step in and offer short term support to practices struggling to fulfil contractual duties due to the resignation or retirement of a GP amid the current recruitment crisis.
Local GP leaders have expressed support for the scheme in light of the current pressures on practices but suggested it may also be called upon to take over GP practices shut down by the CQC as part of its new tougher inspection regime.
NHS England said its framework ‘will enable primary care commissioners to speed up the procurement of providers to fulfil vacated contracts’ using APMS contracting and ‘mini competitions’ if necessary.
A spokesperson said: ‘It is designed to increase the options available and simplify the timeline and process for securing short term general medical services locally.
‘NHS England (South) received 36 applications to be on the framework following a comprehensive Invitation to Tender (ITT) process.’
Dr David Jenner, formerly NHS Alliance contract lead and GP in Devon, said the measure was ‘prudent’ by NHS England which does ‘not have enough staff to effectively commission general practice’.
He said: ‘This at least allows them to respond quickly to the threat of a practice closing. In the environment which we’re operating in, what makes this necessary is that more contracts are voluntarily being resigned.’
However he added: ‘But there is also the new added dimension of the CQC closing practice contracts down, so they need to be able to respond to that quickly.’
Wessex LMC chief executive Dr Nigel Watson, whose practice is running one of the pilots for new models of general practice together with a community hospital trust named on the list of emergency support providers – Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust – said he was ‘largely positive’ to the scheme.
He said Southern Health, as provider of community nursing and mental health services, was ‘not looking to run GP practices’ and have offered to step in and offer support because ‘they recognise that if we just let them wither on the vine we will have a disaster’.
He said: ‘Practices in some areas are in a difficult state and where we have had to try and rescue one or two there hasn’t been anyone out there who can come and do things for them.’
The news comes as the Government has announced plans to step in to aid practices that have been identified with issues via their CQC inspection as part of the ‘new deal’ for GPs.
Pulse’s Stop Practice Closures campaign has revealed that 160,000 patients have already been displaced by practices closing in the last two years and there has been a 500% increase in the number of practices seeking support on closing or merging nationwide.
The 21 providers on NHS England’s GP practice support panel:
Access Health Care
Banes Enhanced Medical Services+
Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
Brisdoc Healthcare Services
Bristol Community Health CIC
Church Street Practice
Devon Health Ltd.
Gloucester GP Consortium Ltd
Innovations in Primary Care Ltd
Lake Road Practice
Medway Community Healthcare CIC
One Medical Group
Peninsula Community Health CIC
Principal Medical Ltd.
Solent NHS Trust
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust
The Practice Plc.
Virgin Care Services Ltd
Worthing Medical Group
Source: NHS England