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PCT to become first in the country to close ‘unneeded’ Darzi centre

By Steve Nowottny

A GP-led health centre in Peterborough looks set to become the first in England to be closed down after it attracted fewer than half of the patients it was supposed to register.

NHS Peterborough is planning to shut down the Alma Road Primary Care Centre, run by GP-led company 3Well Medical, to make an estimated £800,000 in savings, as it struggles to tackle a £12.8 million debt.

The GP-led health centre was procured as part of the Equitable Access in Primary Care programme spearheaded by Lord Darzi, which forced every PCT in England to procure one new centre, regardless of local need.

A spokesperson for the Alma Road centre said the PCT's termination notice had been served under the 'no cause' clause of its APMS contract, but the centre has struggled to recruit patients. It had aimed to register 1,500 patients by April this year - but had by the start of last month recruited just 618.

Paul Whiteside, director of strategic change at NHS Peterborough, said the procurement of the GP-led health centre had resulted in a ‘duplication of services'.

‘There are 11 other GP practices within one mile of the centre which have space for new patients, and the walk-in centre at the City Care Centre is just over a mile away,' he said.

A PCT spokesperson added: ‘Everybody had to have a GP-led health centre a couple of years ago – but we obviously don't need ours.'

Dr Rupert Bankart, medical director for 3Well Medical, said the proposed closure was due to the PCT's financial situation.

'There was no question about closing Alma Road until the mismanagement of the PCT, resulting in a £12.8 million overspend, came to light at the end of last year. APMS contracts like ours all have a standard clause which allows PCTs to cancel services on a "no cause" basis whenever they like. I'm sure we won't be the last practice to face this kind of threat.'

'In common with many other Darzi sites, our registered list grew slowly to start with, but is now increasing at around 300 patients a month. Meanwhile, we have been extremely successful in building the walk-in service, operating at about 140% of the volumes originally envisioned by the PCT.'

'Located in an area of high deprivation, which has a very transient multi-ethnic population, we save a lot of money for the PCT by keeping people out of A&E, especially during evening and weekend opening. It is therefore very difficult to make a like-for-like judgment about value for money.'

Pulse revealed in March that Peterborough's GP-led health centre was one of the best-funded in the country, earning £297.94 per walk-in session irrespective of patient numbers. However at the time the PCT told Pulse it had no plans to revise the terms of its contract.

NHS Peterborough is now taking its proposals for a consultation on the closure of the Alma Road centre to Peterborough City Council's Scrutiny Commission for Health issues, although a spokesperson said no timescale for the closure had yet been finalised.

PCT chiefs are planning the first Darzi centre closure in a bid to save cash PCT chiefs are planning the first Darzi centre closure in a bid to save cash