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Private practices and Darzi centres set for central role in GP consortiums

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: Private companies and Darzi centres will be entitled to a stake in controlling the direction of local GP consortium boards in many areas, Pulse can reveal.

In a development set to dramatically ramp up the private sector's say over commissioning, private practices and Darzi centres are to be entitled to a place on consortiums provided they have their own list of patients.

Companies among those running the 227 GP practices and health centres in England have told Pulse they see a big new opportunity to influence local decision-making and to bring the resources of their nationwide operations to support consortiums.

The inclusion of Darzi centres in consortiums is also likely to thwart GP leaders' hopes of closing down the centres, widely regarded as 'white elephants'.

GP leaders have warned that the formation of consortiums could become a battleground between privately-run services, such as Darzi centres, bidding to increase their influence and other GPs trying to have them shut down claiming they are a waste of NHS money.

Dr Rory McCrea, chair of Chilvers McCrea Healthcare, which is the largest private provider of practices in the country, with 35 practices and three walk in centres, said the firm was already a member of PBC groups in areas it held contracts but would now be looking to increase its involvement following the plans laid out in White Paper.

He said: ‘We would hope to support consortia in various aspects of their commissioning, which might be around their financial and contract management, negotiations, and procurement. We would hope we would able to bring some skills to the table to support and empower local consortia. ‘

Titus Bradley, national clinical head of The Practice, which runs 23 practices and Darzi centres, said the company was drawing up a strategy to work out how it could make the best of the new opportunity provided by the White Paper.

He added: ‘All practices and GP led health centres which have their own list are entitled to be part of GP consortiums. We believe we have a lot to offer but are considering what our strategy will be.'

Dr Nigel Watson, chair of the GPC's commissioning and service development subcommittee, warned of ‘conflict' between GPs and private firms, particularly those running Darzi centres.

Both the recent LMCs conference and the BMA annual representative meeting passed motions calling for Darzi centres to be scrapped, with many GPs furious over what they regard as their unfair funding and claiming they have become expensive white elephants.

Dr Watson said: ‘If Darzi centres have got to conform, that's probably a good thing. But a lot of this can provide tension and conflicts.'

‘The bit that might be a bit difficult is if you have a Darzi centre, you may need to examine it on value for money. There may be some areas where the provision is fine and dandy, but in other areas, you may want to close them down.

‘In some areas, Darzi centres are not delivering much and this needs to be challenged.'

Dr Rory McCrea