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Private firms snap up PCT-run GP practices

Exclusive Private companies are taking advantage of the scheduled closure of PCTs to snap up a series of GP practices previously run by trusts and increase the proportion of primary care they run to record levels.

Firms are to take over the contracts of seven GP practices formerly run by PCTs after they were put out to tender over the last year, as trusts wind down and prepare to hand over to clinical commissioning groups.

Pulse revealed last week that 41 practices in England have either been retendered under APMS or are due to be, and at least two are due to close, while only six have been converted to GMS or PMS.

Now an analysis of the tendering process suggests it will drive up the proportion of practices run by the private sector, with companies dominating the award of contracts. Click here to look at a map of those practices.

A total of 11 practices previously run under PCTMS have gone through APMS tenders over the past year, with seven going to the private sector, four to the acute sector and just one to local GPs. Assura has taken over two practices in Northamptonshire and one in south-west Essex. The Practice has taken over a practice in mid-Essex, and One Medicare won tenders to run two practices in Bradford.

Latest NHS Information Centre figures show the number of APMS contracts increased from 173 in 2009 to 262 in 2010, partly through the rollout of Darzi centres, with around a quarter of equitable access contracts going to private firms.

Our analysis examined 71 practices run under PCTMS – of 84 listed by the NHS Information Centre.

Two practices, the Globe Surgery in south-east Essex and the Manzoori Clinic in west Kent, are due to close, with their patients distributed among neighbouring practices.

Consultations are being run on the future of eight practices – three in Lincolnshire, two in east Lancashire and three in the North East. Six practices have reverted to GMS or PMS contracts, 11 have been transferred to social enterprises and 41 have been retendered or are due to be.

Dr Nigel Watson, a GP in the New Forest and chair of the GPC's commissioning and service development subcommittee, said: ‘If you go to procurement, inevitably big companies benefit. There remains concern about whether contracts are just given to the lowest bidder.'

Dr Louise Irvine, a GP in Lewisham, south-east London, said the news was of ‘great concern': ‘It advances the damaging commercialisation begun under the last government. Commercial practices typically have a high turnover of doctors, undermining continuity.'

Dr Mark Stott, a GP in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, said: ‘We're a practice for vulnerable patients. The plan is to force these people into surrounding practices. I'm sure it will have an adverse impact upon their care.'

A Department of Health spokesperson said PCT-run practices would have to be retendered, but there was no directive to close them.