General practice is ‘not a massively profitable area at the moment’, according to health minister Lord Markham.
His comments came during a debate in the House of Lords yesterday, which focused on the risks of GP practices being bought by US companies.
He also cited GP service provider Babylon as one of the examples of the companies who ‘did not manage to make it work’.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean asked the minister if there was a risk of private equity ‘buying up’ general practice, as he said happened with veterinary services.
He said: ‘If we look at what has happened to vets, for example, private equity has bought up veterinary practices and prices have gone through the roof in order to pay for the funding costs. If this were to happen with general practice, I think that would be a very retrograde step.’
Lord Markham responded, with regards to general practice: ‘My understanding on this is that actually it is not a massively profitable area at the moment.
‘The biggest provider in this area, Babylon Health, as we all know, did not manage to make it work. So, while I think we all understand my noble friend’s concerns, I do not believe that this is the case with the GP funding model.’
He also said that the focus for GP practices should be ‘on high-quality services and patient experiences’, regardless of practice ownership.
He added: ‘I do not believe that anyone should be fundamentally against who owns a business. What they should care most about is the supply of good-quality services.
‘I am not aware of any correlation between the type of ownership and the quality of the services from it.
‘If there is one, then we can look at that, but we are focusing resources on the areas where they make most difference, and the focus is: what is the performance of that clinic?
‘That is what we should all care about. How are the doctors there performing in terms of appointment times and everything else?
‘I will not put a false target on who owns it and the structure of it, because that is not relevant. What is relevant is the quality.’
In April, Babylon told Pulse that it had no plans to pull out of providing care to its 100,000 NHS patients in London, despite wider financial woes.
Babylon’s NHS arm GP at Hand became the first practice in England to register more than 100,000 patients on a single list in August last year.
However, its Birmingham operation was forced to close in November as part of a strategy of ‘winding down’ unprofitable NHS contracts.
Earlier this year, Pulse exclusively revealed that Babylon had indefinitely suspended out-of-area patient registrations for GP at Hand, telling prospective patients they must now live in Central Fulham.