The Department of Health has announced the three areas of England where it plans to road-test its controversial policy of abolishing GP practice boundaries.
The plans will allow patients in parts of London, Manchester and Nottingham to register or receive a consultation with a GP practice of their choice, even if it falls outside their traditional catchment area.
The pilots, which will be used by the DH to evaluate the effectiveness of their plans to abolish practice boundaries across the country, will begin in April 2012 and last for one year, with GP practices able to join on a voluntary basis.
The pilots will cover NHS Westminster, NHS City and Hackney, NHS Tower Hamlets, NHS Manchester, NHS Salford and NHS Nottingham City.
The pilot will allow patients to visit a practice either as a non-registered out-of-area patient or as a registered out-of-area patient in a number of voluntary practices in those areas.
The funding to pay for patients who use surgeries on a non-registered basis will be capped at £2 million and an independent evaluation of the pilot will be organised and published by the DH.
The DH said it had selected the pilot sites due to the high numbers of commuter patients, with Nottingham also chosen due to its status as an existing 111 urgent care pilot site.
But LMC leaders in Nottingham said they were ‘bemused’ by the decision to make their area a pilot site, and warned there may not be enough commuter patients to draw meaningful conclusions.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘This is just the beginning of a range of measures we hope to introduce to make the NHS truly patient focussed and will allow us to better understand their needs.’
‘Many patients are happy with their local GP practice, but a significant minority have problems registering with a practice of their choice. This pilot will mean patients taking part can access the high quality care they deserve in a place and at a time that suits them.’
‘That’s why I believe patients should have the freedom to choose a GP practice that suits their lives, and not be restricted by geographical boundaries.’
Dr Ruth O’Hare, a GP in Westminster, said: ‘This initiative will mean that commuters working in the heart of London will in future have far greater flexibility around their choice of GP, enabling some to choose to see a GP closer to where they work.’
But Chris Locke, secretary of Nottinghamshire LMC, questioned the suitability of Nottingham as a pilot area.
He said: ‘Our reaction was one of bemusement really. We are not aware of there being significant numbers of patients commuting into Nottingham, and we have a GP walk-in centre, and a nurse-run walk-in centre, so it seems bizarre. Statistically, there may not be enough patients to form any valid conclusions.’