Polyclinics on Tyneside overcome fears to hit targets

Posted on November 7, 2009. Filed under: GP-led health centres, News stories |

The Journal | Helen Rae | 7 November 2009

CONTROVERSIAL GP-led health centres that opened in Tyneside earlier this year are meeting their targets for registering patients, despite fears they could be a network of expensive “white elephants”.

A study by medical magazine Pulse showed two-thirds of the first wave of centres masterminded by former Health Minister Lord Darzi are on course to miss registration targets, with many signing up fewer than half the patients they need.

The investigation – marking two years since plans for the centres were announced – reveals even the Department of Health believes it has risked “saturating the market” by rolling them out to every Primary Care Trust (PCT) in the country.

However, Battle Hill Health Centre in Wallsend, which opened three months ago, and Ponteland Road Health Centre, which opened in Cowgate, Newcastle, last month, have to date exceeded their registration targets. The health centres have been developed by a consortium called Freeman Clinics, comprising The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and GP practices in North Tyneside.

Neville Gaukroger, newly appointed managing director of Freeman Clinics, said: “We are delighted with the initial public response to Ponteland Road and Battle Hill health centres, which clearly demonstrates the very real need for such community based services.

“With over 500 patients registered at both centres and a steady flow of people using the walk-in services, performance to date has been ahead of expectations.

“The new centres provide better access to a range of GP and health services, including the walk-in services available to all. Local people clearly like the reality of receiving treatment in centres close to their homes.”

Pulse collected registration data from 27 GP-led health centres – of about 80 that have opened so far – and for 15 established the contractual target agreed with the PCT. Just 33% were on course to meet their target, with centres managing an average of 442 registrations each. By contrast, an average of 6,616 patients per centre had attended walk-in clinics.

Whitley Bay GP George Rae, chairman of the North Eastern British Medical Association, said: “What is happening in the North East seems to be a variant to what is happening nationwide.

“Reports from other parts of the country seem to show some of the health centres are almost turning into white elephants, in that they are not registering enough patients to hit their targets.

“Having said that, in the North East we would also want reassurance that with increasing registration of patients at the health centres this will in no way cause destabilisation to surrounding GP practices.”

Richard Barker, director of operations and performance at NHS North East said: “Following wide ranging consultation, we’ve had a positive response to the GP led health centres which have opened across the region since April. The new centres have been sited in communities where there weren’t enough existing GP services to support all those who needed them, giving patients much more choice and flexibility to see a doctor at a time which suits them.”

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