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GPs have called on the UK government to stop its programme of establishing independent sector treatment centres. They say the centres have a destabilising effect on NHS hospitals, offer poor value for money, and are unaccountable to local doctors.
Speaking at the annual conference of local medical committees in London last week, Marcus Bicknell, from Nottinghamshire local medical committee, said that as well as the well publicised complaints levelled at treatment centres for working below capacity and cherry picking the easiest cases, thereby leaving NHS consultants to perform the most high risk procedures, centres were also tying up budgets that local medical staff had no influence over.
Dr Bicknell said the Barlborough Treatment Centre, in Nottingham, run by Partnership Health Group, and which offers orthopaedic care, runs at only 70% capacity, which he described as inefficient.
But when contacted by the BMJ, Steve Booker, commercial manager at the Barlborough centre, disputed the figure given by Dr Bicknell. He said that the centre was at 90% capacity and had not operated as low as 70% since it was established in July 2005.
Dr Bicknell said that another centre, to be run by Nations Healthcare, was being built on the site of the Queen's Medical Centre, in the city, will offer the full range of surgical services and is due to open at the end of 2007.
“Centres like this are robbing the NHS of much needed resources and are having a detrimental and destabilising effect on the viability of teaching hospitals—all because of this government's obsession with the private sector,” Dr Bicknell told the conference.
The motion, which was carried in full by the conference, also stated that independent sector treatment centres “have poor management structures that choose to ignore GP feedback on the ensuing and ongoing problems.”
Chaand Nagpaul, a GP in London who supported the motion to call a halt to further centres being established, said that the first two waves had cost £5bn (€7.5bn; $10bn), but procedures in independent centres often cost more than comparable procedures in the NHS. The policy of setting up independent sector treatment centres was also raiding GPs' practice based commissioning budget, effectively inhibiting doctors' ability to commission cheaper alternative providers.