The cost of polyclinics is far too prohibitive

NHS spending was £35 billion when Labour came into power in 1997. By 2010/11 it is expected to reach £110 billion. It would be ironic if Labour lost the next election despite more than trebling the NHS budget.

When households are feeling the pinch from rising food and fuel costs, it seems right to ask whether the DoH has spent that more than 200 per cent increase in funding wisely.

GP's Valuing General Practice campaign stresses the evidence backing the cost effectiveness of general practice and GPs.

Just think how much your practice could achieve with a tripling of its budget.

But, no, that would be far too simple. Instead the DoH in England is intent on introducing 150 polyclinics to London and, potentially, one in each PCT elsewhere.

This week GP reveals an estimate by experts of how much more this policy is costing than investing in current general practice. The extra cost of transferring just one practice to a polyclinic is £150,000 a year. If four practices move into a polyclinic the cost rises to £600,000 per polyclinic. Multiply that by the 150 planned for London alone and that is £90 million a year.

The Conservative Party recently estimated that the cost to the NHS of polyclinics if no existing surgeries were closed would be £1.4 billion.

A recent King's Fund report 'Under One Roof: will polyclinics deliver integrated care?' warned that polyclinics could worsen access, increase cost and damage care.

With Labour performing poorly in the polls, we have to question whether this sort of gamble is likely to wear well with voters pre-occupied with seeking value for money in the current economic downturn.

Should you be on the receiving end of a 6am call from prime minister Gordon Brown, you might like to ask him about the value of polyclinics. On current evidence, the cost is surely too prohibitive.

And that's ignoring the threat they pose to the viability of practices unfortunate enough to have one built on their doorstep.

The reaction of health minister Ben Bradshaw last week to the 1.2 million signatures generated in just three weeks by the BMA's Support Your Surgeries campaign was astonishing and is, perhaps, indicative of how little value the government currently places on general practice. To accuse practices of lying to patients to drum up support is, at the very least, massively under-estimating the intelligence of patients.

Labour would do well not to repeat that mistake in the run-up to the next election if it wants to be in power for a fourth term.

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