Private firm pulls out of running GP practice

Private providers Atos Origin ditches a Berkshire health centre in response to poor demand for its services.

A large private healthcare provider has pulled out of running a practice in Berkshire due to the current economic crisis and a lack of patients.

Atos Origin, which runs three other health centres in the UK, is pulling out of the Shinfield Health Centre, near Reading, after seven months due to low demand for services.

Patients have not moved into the area as expected due to the economic crisis, said a spokeswoman for the company.

'Having to provide extended hours where demand for services was so low was not viable,' she said.

The PCT originally identified 'high demand' for a surgery in Shinfield in 2005 and planned for the health centre to grow as the population there increased.

West Berkshire PCT said Atos would continue to operate the surgery until the end of the year with reduced opening hours.

In September, businesses told GP the economic situation was making investment in primary care impossible for the private sector.

Reading GP Dr Michael Powell said: 'The NHS is all about providing services to patients where it is not economically viable for private companies. It should have always been an NHS venture to begin with.

'What is funny is that they are stopping their extended hours at the same time the PCT are beating the rest of the GPs over the head about it,' he added.

Dr Powell said that what happened at the Shinfield practice had left him concerned about what would happen to the area's new GP-led health centre.

'There is a danger of the private sector cherry picking parts of the NHS and leaving the difficult bits,' he said.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said similar problems were likely in other areas where population expansion had been predicted.

'I would imagine other such projections would have to be radically revised.'

Dr Vautrey added: 'It demonstrates how great a risk there is in bringing new providers into an area. It is often far better value for money to build on an existing local base.'

tom.ireland@haymarket.com

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