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GP practice promotes controversial private heart checks service

A GP practice has sparked controversy after it wrote to patients to advertise private cardiovascular screening tests available on the NHS.

The letter from the Park Surgery in Horsham, Sussex, promoted services run by a private company from the practice premises at weekends, with the practice paid ‘a nominal fee' for hosting the service.

In the letter, Health Screen First offered a range of services, including a £40 ‘basic health check' that includes cholesterol and blood pressure testing. These tests are currently provided for free at the practice to patients aged between 40 and 74 as part of the NHS Health Check programme. 

The company also offers an ultrasound scan of the carotid artery to check for a risk of a stroke at £55 and a scan of the abdomen to check for aneurysms for £159.

The letter says they have written to patients to allow them the ‘private choice' of screening where access on the NHS is ‘not routinely available'.

‘We have invited Health Screen First, a private company, to offer a heart and stroke risk screening service using our building. There is no obligation to take up this offer – the choice is entirely yours,' says the letter.

‘The surgery does receive a nominal fee from Health Screen First to cover our administration costs for using our surgery on a Saturday and for providing supporting services.'

BMA guidance states that private practice is ‘significantly restricted' under the GMS contract, and that practices are not allowed ‘either itself, or through any other person' to accept fees from patients for the provision of treatments that are available on the NHS.

The guidance for hosting such a service is unclear, and the GMC refused to comment on the case.

A spokesperson for NHS Sussex said any payments were being directly paid into the practice's registered charity, the Friends of Park Surgery, to be invested in new blood monitoring equipment for the surgery.

The spokesperson for NHS Sussex said: ‘The practice hopes it will be able to improve the follow-up care received by people who choose to take up these private health checks.'

Dr Brian Fisher, a GP in Lewisham, south London, criticised the practice for promoting the private service: ‘This is certainly in the spirit of the current coalition Government´s policies. It´s just the sort of entrepreneurial spirit they're looking for.'

‘But I can't see what benefits patients get from it. And if they´re offering tests that are actually available free on the NHS, I think that seems rather reprehensible.'

No GPs at Park Surgery were available for comment, but Dr Simon Dean, senior partner at the practice, told the West Sussex County Times any abnormal results would be passed on to the patients' GP to be dealt with.

Dr Dean told the newspaper: ‘In the NHS we always have to think about cost. Here if people want that reassurance, we are offering the service.'