Tories backtrack on opposition to GP-led health centres

Posted on May 21, 2009. Filed under: GP-led health centres, News stories, Polyclinics |

Pulse | 19 May 2009

The Conservative party has made a major U-turn over its opposition to GP-led health centres.

The party had previously warned the rollout of Lord Darzi’s centres could force hundreds of GP surgeries to close.

But Conservative shadow health minister Mark Simmonds now says it has proved ‘not to be the case’ and the party has told Pulse it no longer has any plans to stop the rollout.

The policy reversal came as the Government announced plans to carry out a major evaluation into the impact of the rollout.

Speaking in the debate in Westminster last week, Mr Simmonds said his party’s concerns about the impact of the centres had proven to be wide of the mark.

‘There was genuine concern expressed by patients, particularly in rural areas, that their GP surgery would not exist for much longer. Clearly, however, that will not be the case,’ he said.

The Conservatives had called for the rollout to be halted, but a party spokesman told Pulse that they would honour existing contracts if elected.

‘Existing contracts will be honoured,’ he said. ‘Where they have not been entered into already we will leave it to local decision makers to determine whether there is a need.’

Ministers have faced a deluge of criticism from opposition parties, the Health Select Committee and the BMA over the alleged lack of evidence for the clinics.

Later in a statement to Pulse, Mr Simmonds said: ‘Our position on polyclinics has not changed. We do not object to them in principle, but we oppose them being imposed centrally, particularly where it could undermine local family doctors. Where contracts have already been signed we will honour them, and where contracts have yet to be signed we leave it to local communities to decide whether they need a polyclinic.

‘In cities such as London it is the clearly the case that many single handed GPs will have to close down as polyclinics open, whereas in rural areas it is less likely that practices will actually have to close. Nonetheless there is a danger that many may see detrimental impacts such as a loss of patients or staff.’

Earlier Ben Bradshaw revealed during the debate that the Government will launch a full evaluation of the scheme.

A DH spokesman told Pulse the centres would be evaluated nationally as part of the next stage review, and locally by PCTs, who would decide on which metrics to measure them on.

Dr Stephen Forster, a GP in Heswall, the Wirral, said it was premature for the Conservatives to rule out the possibility of existing practices being threatened by the rollout.

‘I’m not aware of any evidence that’s come that would justify them in saying that. I can’t say why they would, other than they purely think that politically that’s the right thing to say at the moment.’

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