EXCLUSIVE - Patients shun 'wasteful' Darzi centres

One in four Darzi centres have registered fewer than 500 patients, a GP investigation has found, sparking calls from GP leaders to shut them down.

Dr Laurence Buckman: 'We all believe Darzi centres are a waste of money.' (Photograph: Jason Heath Lancy)
Dr Laurence Buckman: 'We all believe Darzi centres are a waste of money.' (Photograph: Jason Heath Lancy)

Figures obtained from 95 PCTs under the Freedom of Information Act showed that 26 per cent of Darzi centres  - some of which are polyclinics offering a wide range of services - had registered fewer than 500 patients. A total of 35 per cent had registered fewer than 1,000 patients.

The GP investigation found that 12 per cent of centres had registered no patients, although some explicitly said they did not offer this option. One centre had only one registered patient.

DOWNLOAD - Full list of Darzi centres with fewer than 1,000 patients

PCT data also showed that the centres, which each PCT was forced to set up under the previous government, cost an average £1.1 million each year.

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said these findings showed the centres were a 'massive waste of money'.

DoH director of commissioning Dame Barbara Hakin wrote to PCTs in February outlining that Darzi centres which failed to register many patients could have their lists spread out among local practices.

The LMCs conference voted last month for all Darzi centres to be shut and their funding redistributed in local practices.

NHS Isle of Wight said it would review whether to continue offering patients the chance to register, because its centre has just one registered patient. Caroline Morris, senior commissioner for primary care at NHS Isle of Wight, said: 'We were sceptical if there was a need for a further practice. While one patient is quite a lot lower than we expected, we never expected it to be very high.'

NHS Hampshire said it was 'disappointed' that its centre had only registered 278 patients, but suggested its location had led to low uptake.

Dr Holden said it was 'outrageous' so many centres had struggled to register more than 500 patients. 'You cannot justify investment for that,' he said. 'The whole thing has been an expensive charade that has wasted taxpayers' money. It was just about political spin.'

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said the 'vast majority' of Darzi centres were a 'millstone around the neck of the NHS'. He said the GPC position is that all Darzi centres must be closed. 'We all believe they are a complete waste of money. I won't be sorry to see them go.'

Many PCTs are looking to review the centres, some as part of the Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention agenda or a drive to ensure value for money.

The GP investigation found that some PCTs had already changed the services on offer. NHS Mid Essex converted its GP-led health centre to a nurse-led facility last year.

Darzi centres were set up to offer access to a GP seven days a week, from 8am to 8pm, but six PCTs said their centre did not fulfil these criteria.

NHS Halton and St Helens closed its centre because it was 'deemed not to be viable'. NHS Plymouth and NHS Enfield have also closed their centres.

The DoH said any decisions to review or close a centre must not just look at the number of registered patients.

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