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Local GPs drafted in to run APMS practice after private company fails to improve access

By Gareth Iacobucci

A group of GP practices, including one outbid in a controversial APMS tender three years ago, have been drafted in to take over the ailing practice after the private firm that was awarded the contract failed to deliver the required improvements to access.

NHS Tower Hamlets has terminated Atos Healthcare's contract to run the St Paul's Way Medical Centre in East London just three years into a ten year deal, citing the firm's inability to deliver improvements to access as a key driver behind the decision.

The PCT has now been forced to draft in a group of local practices, including Dr Sam Everington's Bromley-by-Bow Health Centre, which lost out to Atos in the original tender back in 2007, to temporarily run the practice while it decides on how to proceed.

The decision to award the contract to Atos in 2007 caused a huge political outcry, with Pulse revealing that Dr Everington, the then-Labour government's leading adviser on access, had been outbid by Atos – with the promise of improved access and opening hours a key factor.

The decision enraged local patients and GPs, who staged an angry demonstration when the surgery opened in 2008 – and issued a vote of no confidence in the PCT, claiming the decision had been based purely on cost grounds.

But the PCT and Atos have now agreed a mutual termination of the contract, with the trust turning to the Mile End East and Bromley-by-Bow network of GP practices to run the centre.

Jane Milligan, Tower Hamlets Borough director of NHS East London and The City, said: ‘This was a ten year contract in which the PCT had the right to terminate the contract after five years ordinarily, or sooner if tough performance measures aren't delivered against.'

‘Regular contract review showed the practice was struggling to deliver the required improvements, particularly around access to appointments.'

Ms Milligan defended the trust's original decision to award the contract to Atos. She said: ‘Atos was competitive on price and in line with our modelling at the time, but [also] provided consistent and clear evidence that they would provide a more accessible service.'

But Dr Everington said the practice had been 'a failure', and blamed the last Government for being too focused on 'very simplistic' tenders being carried out.

He said: 'There are many lessons learned. A lot of this comes down to to the last government, and pressures put on a very simplistic procurement process. For a practice like this, you need to invest a massive amount of time and energy. For something to have failed after three years, there has to be a question about the original business plan.'

Dr Kambiz Boomla, whose practice also lost out to Atos in the tender back in 2007, said the practice was ‘doomed to fail' because too much emphasis was placed on cost in the bidding process, and not enough on local knowledge.

He said: ‘I don't think they [Atos] really understood what they were taking on. We probably had a much more sensible grasp of how to deliver access, but clearly it was a more expensive model.'

He added: ‘It beggars belief really. But the PCT should be praised for recognising that they made a mistake and moving to correct it.'

A spokeswoman for Atos Healthcare said: ‘Atos Healthcare mutually agreed with the PCT to terminate the contract with an exit date of 31 March 2011. Atos Healthcare now focuses on occupational health and disability analysis, an area in which it is a leader in the UK.'

Protestors were angry at the award of the contract to Atos in 2007