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Private firm closes flagship GP practice in north London

Exclusive: GP practices in north London have been told they must absorb 4,700 patients in the next two months after the leading private health provider The Practice Plc announced it will close a high-profile GP practice less than a year after taking over the service.

The Camden Road Surgery – a long-standing GP practice which has been at the centre of the NHS privatisation debate ever since it was taken over by US health giant UnitedHealth in 2008 – will close its doors in April, with plans in place for a ‘mutual termination' of its APMS contract with NHS North Central London.

NHS managers said the decision to close the surgery, which was broken to GPs on Friday, was forced by a decision by the surgery's landlord to refuse an extension for the premises lease beyond April.

The Practice's contract to run the surgery had been due to expire in March 2013, but NHS North Central London said that the early ‘mutual termination' of the contract would not involve any compensation payouts to the private provider.

In recent years the Camden Road Surgery has been at the centre of controversy over the private sector's role in general practice. The Practice Plc took on ownership of the practice last April after taking over the contract from UnitedHealth. The decision to award the original APMS contract to UnitedHealth in 2008 attracted vehement opposition from anti-privatisation campaigners, after NHS managers snubbed rival bids by local GPs to run the surgery despite them being judged to offer superior core services.

LMC leaders and leading GPs warned that the move to close Camden Road surgery at such short notice would be ‘hugely disruptive' to patients and GPs.

Dr Paddy Glackin, medical director at Londonwide LMCs and a GP in Islington, North London, said: ‘The patients, who have had long-term relationships and have come to depend on a practice despite all the changes in management, are now going to have their practice taken away from them without having even been asked. We would like to have seen a meaningful consultation with patients and looking at actual alternatives to closing the practice down and dispersing the patients.'

‘They should look at some potential solution generated by the GPs and the patients, rather than this which has been imposed on them from without.'

RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada said: ‘This is hugely disruptive for patients. They had the new provider not long ago, and before that UnitedHealth. The patients themselves need to feel that they have a GP who is there to look after them and that they trust. For the last year we've focused so much on GPs as a commissioner but we have to remember that GPs as providers is our most important role.'

NHS North Central London said it will be contacting local GPs to see how many patients they can take on and will be consulting with patients who will be given the option of choosing a new surgery or being allocated to a new practice.

A spokesperson said: ‘We are absolutely confident that there is capacity in the system for other Camden GPs to take on these patients.  We are in the process of contacting them to discuss how many they can take at which practice and this will depend to some extent on the outcome of the allocation/dispersal consultation we are undertaking.'

A spokesperson for The Practice said: ‘It is with regret that The Practice can confirm that it is currently in the process of closing its surgery on Camden Road.'

‘The lease on the property expires in April and although the PCT and The Practice have both worked tirelessly to negotiate an extension to this lease, unfortunately the landlord has decided not to grant an extension . Working with the PCT we are currently in consultation with our patients in order to ensure they will continue to be looked after within the area once the surgery has closed. We remain at all times committed to our patients and their best interests and will do our very best to ensure a smooth transition.'