By Ian Quinn
Exclusive: The Government is facing a regulatory challenge by private sector providers over its decision to launch a review of all Darzi centre contracts across England.
The Department of Health yesterday issued new advice to PCTs and GP consortia that would lead to the end of the nationwide network of GP-led health centres set up under the previous government.
However, Pulse has learned private sector providers are furious at their treatment by PCTs who have begun terminating Darzi centre contracts and have launched a launch a challenge under NHS competition regulations.
Today the NHS Partners Network, which represents private firms such as Virgin-owned Assura Medical and Care UK, on behalf of the NHS Confederation, revealed it believed the decision to review Darzi contracts across England was in breach of the Government’s own competition rules.
It has told ministers the move will be referred to the NHS Co-operation and Competition Panel if it becomes the basis for a nationwide round of Darzi centre closures, which is widely expected and has been welcomed by many Darzi centre opponents.
David Worskett, director of the network, said: ‘PCTs are looking to close health centres simply because they seem to be the easiest things to close but this flies in the face of the Government’s own commitment to take into account patient choice.’
He claimed many of the Darzi centres had proved ‘hugely successful’ and were very popular with patients, adding that a string of GP entrepreneurs, who successfully bid for many of the centres under a nationwide APMS tender process, could join the challenge alongside large private firms.
‘There is very little evidence that they have not been cost effective and in some cases PCTs have been making claims which are very dubious about the reasons they want to close the centres.
‘Of course the NHS is financially challenged and PCTs are having to very actively make economic decisions, but it is vital that they look at the true picture and do not disregard patient choice.’
He said the network had already made ‘very strong’ representations to Government before yesterday’s guidance letter from commissioning tsar, Dame Barbara Hakin, was sent to trusts and said that the process could ultimately be subject to legal challenge in the courts if the NHS’ own competition rules failed to stop it.
As well as revealing all Darzi centre contracts are to be reviewed, Dame Barbara also ordered a review of the 100 new GP practices for under-doctored areas, which were set up across 50 PCTs by the previous Government as part of its equitable access scheme.
Mr Worskett said the challenge would ‘apply equally’ to any process which was considered to be a breach of patient choice.
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