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Sainsbury’s offers GPs free premises as it launches national network of practices

By Ian Quinn

Exclusive: Supermarket giant Sainsbury's is to launch a nationwide general practice network by allowing GPs to set up branch surgeries free of charge in up to 204 of its stores, Pulse can reveal.

The company will next week kick off a major recruitment drive to find GPs ready to take up its offer of free premises, with plans also afoot for the retailer to provide commissioning advice, marketing and back-office support to GPs, and to offer public health services to consortia and local councils.

Although GP branches will retain their independence under the model proposed, the Sainsbury's scheme will allow practices who take part to boost their practice list size by attracting patients from further afield once practice boundaries disappear, with the company hoping that increasing the number of visitors to its stores will in turn boost its profits.

Pulse revealed last year that Sainsbury's was planning to launch practices at other stores, following a pilot project in Heaton Park, Manchester, run by Dr Mohammed Jiva.

Dr Jiva will now head up a series of roadshows across the country, beginning in Crewe next week, and he said Sainsbury's had set a target of opening at least 40 branches by April 2012.

‘Sainsbury's are essentially knocking down their current pharmacy rooms and rebuilding them to accommodate larger services which will be suitable for GPs,' he said. ‘In total there are 204 stores that could be suitable.'

‘There will be no rent, no overheads to pay. The GPs that use these branches will get to keep their NHS revenue and their private revenue and Sainsbury's will gain in the extra footfall.'

Dr Jiva has run a branch surgery at the Heaton Park store for two and a half years and said Sainsbury's was now willing to offer its business expertise to help GPs take on a commissioning role, and was also planning to offer its resources to work with GP consortia.

‘I see it becoming a national network,' he said. ‘We plan to have regular training for GPs who are involved and GPs working with the Sainsbury's model will be able to benefit from back-office support and consultation with a massively successful business - but one which is not a competitor out to take over their business.'

‘It's a cost-zero exercise and this is a great opportunity for practices to get another venue and learn new management skills, and when practice boundaries disappear they will provide opportunities for practices to increase their lists.'

David Gilder, professional services manager for Sainsbury's, said: ‘There can be no doubt that primary care faces challenging times. The new NHS white paper, coupled with the current financial crisis, poses a series of challenges for primary care that will require them to develop new and innovative ways to deliver healthcare to patients.'

‘Whilst PCTs are exploring a number of routes to release efficiency savings towards their deficits, historical patient services are being questioned on whether there is sufficient evidence base and whether they deliver value for money.'

Mr Gilder added: ‘Recognising the tough economic climate and demand from customers who tell us that they are keen to see more GP services offered in store, Sainsbury's has decided to provide the usage of its consultation rooms to local GP practices without charge. Whether via the growth of individual practices, federation of practices or practice-based commissioners, Sainsbury's is keen to explore and support local GPs and help them deliver everything from core NHS services to secondary care shift in work to diagnostics to private healthcare to patients.

‘Sainsbury's will provide further support with in-store marketing aimed at shoppers to promote healthcare services offered and also support GPs in their efforts to deliver the local public health agenda.'

Sainsbury's roadshows

30th Nov - Ramada Encore Crewe, Crewe Business Park, Electra Way, Crewe, Cheshire CW1 6BD

3rd Dec - Barceló Hinckley Island Hotel, Watling Street (A5), Hinckley, Leicestershire LE10 3JA

7th Dec - Forest Pines Hotel, Ermine Street, Brigg, Lincolnshire DN20 0AQ

contact for details re further dates.

Dr Mohammed Jiva (left) runs a branch surgery in a Sainsbury's store in Manchester Dr Mohammed Jiva (left) runs a branch surgery in a Sainsbury's store in Manchester