Polyclinics threaten 600 GP practices, say Tories

Posted on April 29, 2009. Filed under: GP-led health centres, News stories, Polyclinics |

Telegraph | By Kate Devlin Medical Correspondent | 18 June 2008

More than 600 GP practices are under threat because of Government plans for “super surgeries” despite overwhelming public opposition to the proposals, according to the Tories.

Hundreds of family doctor surgeries across England have been identified by local health Trusts as being in the same catchment area as proposed new polyclinics.

The Conservatives have compiled the list of practices across the country, named in plans for polyclinics drawn up by Primary Care Trusts, which they say could be killed off by the scheme.

They said the list showed practices which could be forced to shut because they would lose patients to the new clinics if they went ahead and warned that the final figure is likely to be much higher as many Trusts are still compiling plans.

Doctors who found their name on the list would now be “even more concerned than they were already” about the possibility of closure, the British Medical Association (BMA) said.

But the Government insisted that there was no suggestion in the documents that any of the practices had been earmarked for closure.

Last week more than 1.2 million patients signed a petition protesting against plans for polyclinics, which was delivered to Gordon Brown.

Doctors’ leaders argue that the new surgeries will destroy the relationship between patients and their GP family doctor and force them to travel much further to see a doctor.

GPs are also worried that polyclinics could “cream off” younger, healthier patients who help to subsidise their practices to treat those with more complex medical problems.

But ministers insist that the clinics, which could house up to 25 GPs as well as extra services such as dentistry and minor surgery and will open during evenings and weekends, will provide a “world class” service.

The Tory research reveals that 608 practices in almost half of all Primary Care Trusts outside London -where ministers insist that the “GP led health centres” will be in addition to existing services – have already been listed as close to proposed new clinics.

If this were replicated across the rest of the country including the capital as many as 1,700 practices could be under threat.

The Tories said the implication was that polyclinics would threaten the viability of the practices listed, even if not all of them would be forced to shut.

Andrew Lansley, the Conservative health spokesman, said: “The Government needs to explain why these GP surgeries are being named if it’s not because polyclinics pose a threat to the local doctor.

“It adds to the huge weight of evidence now building up that polyclinics are not the additional services as Gordon Brown has claimed. Patients and family doctors are right to be worried about losing a valued local service. It’s time

Labour faced up to their concerns and called a halt to their unpopular polyclinics scheme.”

A spokesman for the BMA said that the publication of the list would worry GPs already concerned that their practices could shut.

He said: “We have always had concerns about the viability of practices that are close to these polyclinics.

“It is inevitable that they will lose resources because of the new development, even if they are not actually dragged into it.

“Ben Bradshaw [the Health Minister] has said that some patients won’t have to deregister with their GP to use this service, but that is not really the point.

“There is only one pot of money and if it is all going into polyclinics then GP surgeries will have to cut back on services and many could be forced to close.”

He added: “GPs who find themselves on this list will be even more concerned than they were already.”

But the Government insisted that the Tories had got their “facts wrong” on the issue.

Mr Bradshaw said: “This summer’s Tory health campaign against more flexible GP opening hours is as ill-fated as last summer’s against hospital closures. David Cameron was humiliated into abandoning last year’s campaign when he had to admit the Tories had got their facts wrong. They’ll be forced to abandon this one when they realise they’ve got their facts wrong again.

“The public like being able to see a GP in the evenings and at weekends. Once again, the Conservatives are firmly on the wrong side of the argument on health.”

An official spokesman for Mr Bradshaw said: “There is no suggestion from any of those PCTs that these surgeries are marked for closure.”

Meanwhile the Department of Health announced that more GP practices than ever were opening for longer.

For the first time, 20 per cent of practices offer extended opening hours in the evenings and at weekends, up from just 12 per cent in April. In some Trusts more than half of all doctors offer out of hours appointments at their clinics.

By the end of this year the Government wants at least 50 per cent of all GP surgeries to offer extended opening hours.

Within London, where ministers insist plans for polyclinics differ from the rest of the country, around 100 practices have already been already earmarked for closure, to make way for the new surgeries.

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