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Sainsbury’s plans a rapid expansion of in-store GP surgery programme

Exclusive Sainsbury’s is planning an expansion of its programme to site primary care services in its stores, with a further seven in-store GP surgeries due to open across the country this year.

The new surgeries, led by a mix of practice nurses and GPs, are set to open in Sainsbury’s stores across the country, in areas such as Harrogate, Birmingham, East Grinstead, London, York and Brighton.

The premises will be offered rent-free to GPs, and will not be run or funded by Sainsbury’s, but GP leaders have warned the move sounds ‘too good to be true’.

Sainsburys began giving GPs the option of setting up branch surgeries free of charge in its stores last year, and to date there are 13 in-store surgeries, and another 24 on the supermarket’s property, such as in car parks.

The expansion of Sainsbury’s programme to open supermarket-based surgeries comes after the King’s Fund thinktank recommended the GP ‘cottage industry’ was ‘not fit for purpose’ and that larger practices should be opened in locations convenient for patients, such as supermarkets.

Sainsbury’s executives said the availability of parking and public transport links made the supermarket a ‘great spot’ for a GP surgery and that the feedback GPs had from patients had been ‘overwhelmingly positive’ so far.

David Gilder, professional services manager at Sainsbury’s, said: ‘We know from experience that a Sainsbury’s store, often situated in a convenient location with ample parking and public transport links, is a great spot for a GPs surgery.

‘Customers tell us they really value having this service on site and GPs tell us that the feedback they have had from patients has been overwhelmingly positive.’

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But Dr Tony Grewal, medical director of Londonwide LMCs, said that while it may be tempting for GPs with ‘ill-fitting’ premises currently, they should consider whether a new branch surgery in Sainsbury’s was the best investment.

He said: ‘It sounds too good to be true. If they are providing free premises then it’s an action of such altruistic magnificence that I can’t criticise.

‘For a fully functioning surgery you would need six to 10 rooms - it seems unlikely that Sainsbury’s will be able to perform or deliver that. Branch surgeries do have problems - such as system communications. They’re not always encouraged by management.’

He added: ‘GPs should consider the security of tenure and duration - will it be reviewed every year? If they’ve got a site which is fit for these loss-leaders, Sainsbury’s could be earning notional rent. It might be another string to their bow.’

Dr John Etherton, a GP in Rotting Dean near Brighton, said opening a practice in Sainsbury’s meant general practice would become an add-on to shopping.

He said: ‘I do not feel that a supermarket of any kind is a suitable place to have a GP surgery. It distorts the public’s perception of the service provided.

‘The provision of primary care historically was and needs to be in dedicated premises where that is the main function provided. Other facilities can be added on, but it shouldn’t be the other way around where the surgery is the add-on.’

He added: ‘Some issues are phenomenally serious, [such as] a life-threatening illness or a major problem.

‘The place where that takes place should be dedicated. If you are going to register a death you need to go somewhere which is private, serious and dedicated. It’s better psychologically.’