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DH to intervene over PCT’s block on practice expansion

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Department of Health has become embroiled in a row over a GP practice's plans to open a branch surgery, after a PCT refused to allow the development to proceed, despite the Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP) ruling in the practice's favour.

The panel last month ruled in favour of Churchill Medical Centre after concluding that NHS Kingston's decision to prevent the practice from expanding nearby was ‘inconsistent' with competition rules.

But the PCT has refused to give permission for the practice to open its branch surgery until they are given directions by either the Department of Health or NHS London.

The competition panel has no legal power, but was set up by the Government to rule on cases where the Principles and Rules for Co-operation and Competition were in danger of being breached.

In December, it concluded that the PCT's decision to deny the opening of a branch surgery was anti-competitive and restrictive to patient choice.

But in a letter to the practice, seen by Pulse, David Smith, chief executive of the PCT said: ‘The CCP report makes recommendations to the Department of Health and to NHS London regarding the branch surgery. Until such time as the DH and NHS London has considered the report, we will not give you permission to open the branch surgery.'

Dr Charles Alessi, a GP at the Churchill Medical Centre, said he was bemused that the PCT was still unwilling to allow them to open the branch surgery, despite the panel's recommendation.

He said: ‘The competition panel can't force [a decision], but it has been set up by the Secretary of State so one would assume that if they have found that the actions of the PCT breached elements of competition, the PCT take note of that.'

‘We are in a rather odd situation. We have contacted the DH and we are told that there will be some determination over the next few weeks. But there is a concern that the determination may include looking at the case yet again.

Dr Alessi said he hoped the DH's determination would draw a line under the case, to allow them to provide a better service for their patients.

‘The whole basis of the competition panel's verdict is that potentially our population is being denied choice and is being disadvantaged. That is being allowed to continue. One would hope the DH issue an instruction and we move on.'

Dr Charles Alessi