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Supermarket surgeries give GPs a new way to reach patients

Over the past few years a new option has been introduced to GPs looking to provide care to patients – the supermarket.

Supermarkets can be accessed using private and public transport, often offer free parking and allow patients to carry out their weekly chores during their visit. For a number of years supermarkets have delivered a dispensing service through PCT enhanced service contracts, with on-site consultation rooms adjacent to the pharmacy. This service, combined with significant footfall and frequent repeat visits, have made supermarkets an attractive option to deliver healthcare, from primary care to public health.

In 2008 the first supermarket GP surgery opened in Sainsbury's Heaton Park in Manchester, following feedback from patients that the original surgery suffered from poor access and lack of parking facilities. A second surgery has now opened in Lancashire, and Sainsbury's expects to have a total of eight in-store surgeries up and running by the end of the summer.

Offering more options

The GPs working at Heaton Park needed reassurance that the service would not have corporate supermarket branding and would retain the identity of the main GP surgery. The primary care contract remained with the GPs, with this new relationship akin to a landlord-tenant agreement.

The surgery at Heaton Park was not intended to be the main venue, but instead to act as an alternative option for patients who found it difficult to access the main surgery.

Since then, Government policy on extended opening has provided additional access to healthcare professionals, but there are still issues around staff availability and lack of convenience for certain parts of the community who may have limited free time. 

Supermarket clinics provide new opportunities for all those involved. Patients can see a clinician, receive prescriptions and shop – all under one roof. Primary care can use these venues at no cost to help them deliver both NHS and private services such as travel clinics – as well as reaching even more patients. The infrastructure in place allows GPs to easily access patient's records over N3 connectivity to ensure continuity of care.

Supermarkets have become the hub of many communities and give GPs the opportunity to develop how and when they deliver care to patients, while still retaining control over the identity of the services they deliver.

Many have queried the location of surgeries in places that also sell items such as alcohol and tobacco. It is important to remember that patients have the right to choose what they purchase and it is the GP's role to provide the frank advice and support that may be necessary if patients are consuming harmful products.

A recent practice survey of 148 patients revealed that 88% would find a local supermarket a convenient venue to access GP services. Of these respondents, 53% said that finding easier parking would be a benefit, 59% would use an on-site pharmacy and 35% believed that having the opportunity to shop would be an additional advantage to consultations at the store. The concept will not satisfy every patient, but there is a proportion of the community who will find this a suitable alternative to their main surgery.

As the health service undergoes significant change, new opportunities to improve access to healthcare need to be explored in partnership with communities. Supermarket healthcare is a good option to improve access and can play its part in the next stage of health service evolution.

Dr Mohammed Jiva is a GP in Middleton and runs the Peterloo Medical Centre based in Sainsbury's Heaton Park in Manchester