Exclusive: NHS withholds detail of Virgin APMS deal to take over practice facing £400,000 cuts

Details of an APMS contract awarded to private provider Virgin Care to take over an Essex practice forced to close after £400,000 funding cuts will not be made public because the information is 'commercially sensitive', NHS England has said.

Contract: details of Virgin Care deal 'commercially sensitive' (Photo: iStock)
Contract: details of Virgin Care deal 'commercially sensitive' (Photo: iStock)

But a statement from NHS England suggested that the provider could be receiving a higher rate of funding than the existing practice, because APMS contracts 'often attract a higher cost per patient based on the fact that they are time limited' to five- or 10-year periods.

GPonline reported earlier today that the Sutherland Lodge Surgery in Chelmsford was set to be taken over by private provider Virgin Care from July.

The practice's existing partners were forced to hand in their notice after PMS funding cuts threatened to remove a third of their funding over two years, according to practice manager Carol Sams. The 12,000-patient practice faced losses of £400,000.

GP funding

GP leaders have hit out over a lack of transparency over APMS contracts, after NHS England refused to confirm whether Virgin Care would take control of the practice under the same financial terms as the existing partners would have faced had they remained.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said the BMA was concerned that PMS practices could be vulnerable to takeovers by private providers as the impact of cuts was felt across the country.

But he warned: 'The key thing is whether there is a level playing field, or whether there are any extra financial inducements for providers delivering services under APMS contracts.

'There needs to be transparency. Just as you know how much funding goes to each GMS and PMS GP practice, that should be the same for APMS.'

Dr Vautrey said that providers operating under APMS contracts were not necessarily receiving extra funding. 'There are a number of APMS practices that are struggling – in some cases providers won contracts by undercutting competitors and we have seen some of those close.

NHS transparency

'I think there is variation, but we are speculating. That’s the problem - there should be transparency. This is something that is a concern to the profession.'

An NHS England spokeswoman told GPonline that it could not release any details of funding for the Virgin Care contract to run Sutherland Lodge Surgery because the information was 'commercially sensitive'.

But she explained that like PMS contracts, APMS deals 'are also locally agreed, time-limited contracts'. 'These contracts often attract a higher cost per patient based on the fact that they are time limited e.g. five or 10 years for example, compared to GMS contracts which continue indefinitely,' the spokeswoman said.

She added: 'It is national NHS England policy to use APMS contracts as the vehicle for commissioning new GP practices.'

Virgin Care also declined to comment on the funding it would receive. A spokesman confirmed that core opening hours at the practice would remain unchanged under its new deal, but said that only NHS England could comment on the contract, funding and commissioning.

He said: 'Virgin Care has a strong track record over the last decade of delivering NHS services like this one and we’re working closely with NHS England and the existing provider to ensure the transfer of Sutherland Lodge is as smooth as possible for patients.'

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