Exclusive: Just 12 patients across the country have so far decided to register with a practice near their place of work, almost three months after pilots of the abolition of practice boundaries were supposed to get under way, a Pulse investigation reveals.
Four of the six areas supposed to begin piloting the controversial policy in April have yet to do so, with three so far unable to convince a single practice to take part and the others signing up just a handful of GPs.
The severe delay has cast doubt on the timetable for the whole project, with the Department of Health suggesting the evaluation of the pilots – due to take place next spring ahead of any national rollout – could have to be reconsidered.
The pilots were agreed by the GPC and DH as part of the 2012/13 contract deal, and were intended to allow patients to either register or attend as an out-of-area patient across six areas. But they have been dogged by uncertainty over funding arrangements and an LMC-led boycott, and are now far behind schedule.
The pilots have begun in Manchester and Westminster, with the former signing up three practices and the latter 18. NHS Manchester said it had seen two registered patients and one ‘day patient’, while NHS Westminster put its ‘preliminary number of patient sign-ups’ at 10.
An NHS Westminster spokesperson added: ‘We will begin work with practices to promote the service very soon and anticipate numbers will increase.’
Elsewhere, NHS Salford said six GP practices had signed up for the scheme, but it did not expect to go live until the end of June.
NHS Nottingham City expects its pilot scheme to begin ‘in early July’, while no GPs in NHS Tower Hamlets or City and Hackney PCT have yet opted in.
A spokesperson for NHS North East London and the City, which covers both PCTs,
said: ‘We are hopeful of having a solution in place later in the year.’
According to the Patient Choice Scheme directions issued by the DH, the pilots are due to conclude on 1 April 2013. But the DH told Pulse it was keen to extract the maximum possible learning from practices which join the pilots later than planned, and it is understood to be willing to look again at the timetable.
Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC negotiator, said an extension to the evaluation deadline could be warranted, but only if the pilots were not causing ‘problems’.
Dr Sella Shanmugadasan, chair of Tower Hamlets LMC, said funding remained a sticking point: ‘We have to pay for the additional services for the patients – the practice has to absorb that cost.’