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How we set up in Sainsbury’s

The problem

Four years ago I had a local issue primarily related to patient parking. Our surgery is on a busy road and there is little public parking. What there is is usually absorbed by local businesses and shoppers. Aware of the lack of resources to build a car park at the rear of our premises and the cost of new NHS premises, I considered delivering NHS services from a nearby and convenient location.

Sainsbury’s had ample parking with allocated slots for disabled drivers, long opening hours and good access to public transport, and was a venue that many people visited weekly. It also had an on-site pharmacy with a consulting room, so it appeared to offer an ideal opportunity for collaborative working.

I picked up the phone to head office in Holborn and started a relationship that has developed over the past four years.

How we did it

Initially, with the emergence of extended opening hours, the local PCT approved Sainsbury’s as a location for four GP surgeries covering 20,000 patients. There was NHS funding available to support the cost of providing GPs to cover the shifts.

After a couple of years, this funding ceased. The feedback we had received from the public was exceptional, with comments highlighting how easy it was to find a parking space and how convenient it was, and praising its ability to deliver routine healthcare as the IT system was connected to the servers in all four surgeries. 

Our patients appreciated the choice of venues and, while it was not to everyone’s taste, there was a clear cohort of patients who preferred the Sainsbury’s venue to our main base. Throughout the initial two years, all our clinics were fully booked.

Following discussion with the other GP partners and Sainsbury’s, a new model emerged which is now offered nationally to other GP surgeries. The collaboration is simple; Sainsbury’s offers free use of its pharmacy consultation room with no overheads, no retainer, rent, cleaning or security bills. In return it has more effective use of its premises, develops a working relationship with a local GP surgery and offers a service that benefits its community.

The GP contract and conditions remain at all times with the GP, with the relationship with Sainsbury’s being akin to that of a landlord and tenant.

The counter assistants provide a meeting and greeting service, as well as acting as chaperones when required. The footfall through the store provides an excellent opportunity to promote public health and any private healthcare services to passing shoppers, as well as NHS services to registered patients.

The future

The model is evolving, with different GP providers across the country sharing best practice. There are currently 27 practices in Sainsbury’s stores in the UK.

A recent King’s Fund report referred to new ways of working, with primary care located in more convenient locations. This collaboration between primary care and the private sector achieves the ultimate goal of improving patient access and care.

It provides an opportunity to explore new ways of working, more effectively utilise IT and improve practice resource with reduced financial risks. 

Dr Mohammed Jiva is a GP in Middleton, Greater Manchester