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Just 500 patients register with out-of-area practices as most GPs shun boundary pilots

Exclusive: Just over 500 patients have opted to register with an out-of-area practice under the Government’s flagship scheme to test the abolition of GP practice boundaries, Pulse can reveal.

More than nine months after the pilots in six areas were supposed to get underway, a total of 514 registered patients and 129 day patients have benefitted from the scheme designed to allow patients to access care at a GP practice near their work.

The GPC said the numbers demonstrated that there was little demand from patients for the ‘GP Choice Pilot’, which has already been extended due to low numbers participating in the scheme.

Pulse revealed that only 12 patients had registered under the scheme in June. That figure has increased markedly since then, but there are still two PCT areas where the scheme has yet to begin due to a boycott by GP practices - NHS Tower Hamlets and NHS City and Hackney.

Even in the four PCTs who have begun the scheme, there are low levels of GP participation in the scheme, with only 8% of practices in Manchester, 11% in Nottingham, 16% in Salford and 35% of practices in Westminster taking part.

In NHS Westminster, 280 registered patients are participating in the scheme. Some 118 patients were registered under the scheme in Nottingham, 58 in Manchester and 54 in Salford.

In addition, 129 patients have accessed day services in the pilot areas, with 123 of these in Westminster.

Although no targets had been set, one piece of official research commissioned by NHS managers suggested that eventually as many as 120,000 commuter patients could choose to register with a GP in the City of London alone.

Last autumn the Government extended the pilots to run for a further six months until September 2013 and cited the changes made as a ‘significant improvement’ to the NHS in its mid-term review this month. The scheme will be run by the NHS Commissioning Board from April.

But the GPC said it had been ‘proved right’ that there was little demand from patients for the scheme and questioned whether it should continue beyond April.

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GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The statistics demonstrate that GPC has been proved right to say that there wasn’t any great demand for this from patients.’

‘There are lots of important issues for the NHS Commissioning Board to focus on in the coming years, but based on these results it’s questionable whether pursuing this policy further is worthwhile.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We want to put patients’ interests at the heart of NHS services by giving them more freedom and choice over their care. This continues to be the goal of the GP Choice pilots and we will analyse the success of these pilots when the independent evaluation is completed in summer 2013.’

‘From April this year, the NHS Commissioning Board will develop this policy area, but up until then we will continue to offer guidance to PCTs and GPs who are seeking to develop their pilot.’

GP Choice Pilot

Launched 1 April 2012, it was intended to run for one year, but was extended to September 2013

Total number of PCT areas chosen for the pilot: 6

PCT areas with GP practices taking part: 4

PCT areas where all GPs are boycotting the pilot: 2

Total number of GP practices within the chosen pilot areas: 345

Practices opting to take part: 42

Patients registering with a GP practice as part of the pilot: 514

The PCT with the highest number of registered patients: NHS Westminster with 280 registrations

Total number of ‘day patients’ across the pilot scheme: 129

Source: Data obtained by Pulse from six PCTs