Anger at bid to prop up Darzi centres

Two architects of the new GMS contract are behind a Darzi centre accused of trying to poach patients from other practices by blanket advertising its services and offering cheap gym memberships.

Dr McKeown: 'Darzi centres have struggled to get patients to register. There seems to be a mood to rectify this' (Photograph: JH Lancy)

GP leaders warn mailshots by Darzi centres are becoming increasingly common, and that PCTs in some areas are unfairly allocating them patients.

The Wilson Health Centre in Mitcham, Surrey, sent out leaflets across the area advertising its services and offering a discounted leisure centre membership to patients who sign up.

The centre is run by Concordia Health, set up by former GPC chairman Dr John Chisholm and former GPC deputy chairman Dr Simon Fradd.

GPC member Dr Helena McKeown said it was 'clear' the Darzi centre aimed to poach patients from other practices in the area. 'Why else would they be doing this?' she said.

Dr McKeown said while Darzi centres have had success with walk-in patients, they have struggled to get patients to register. 'There seems to be a mood to rectify this and meet business targets,' she said.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chairman, said Darzi centres are carrying out mailshot campaigns 'quite commonly'. GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said it was 'underhand' for a practice to offer inducements to patients.

He said practices did not have the money to offer inducements to join or to advertise.

A spokesman for Concordia Health admitted he could see why other GPs would be annoyed. But he said: 'The PCT invested in the service and it's in everyone's interest that everyone is aware of it. We are not trying to poach patients. We are not doing anything that any other practice cannot do.'

Meanwhile, GPs in North Staffordshire have written to health secretary Andrew Lansley after their PCT scrapped a PCT-led practice and allocated 2,000 of 2,700 patients to a Darzi centre more than two miles away, despite 12 practices being closer.

Dr Paul Golik, secretary of North Staffordshire LMC, said the remaining patients were distributed among 'local practices' with no practice inheriting more than 200 patients.

All patients under 65 years old were allocated to the Darzi centre, he said, while all patients over 65 were allocated to local surgeries.

Dr Golik said: 'We have written to the minister to point out that this has not been done in an equitable way.

'The Darzi centre inherited 2,000 relatively straightforward patients. But the patients who are over 65, who are most likely to need attention, have gone to the local practices.'

Dr Golik said the PCT was trying to 'prop up' the Darzi centre because it was failing to attract patients on its own. 'The Darzi centre has targets to meet to justify its existence,' he said. 'An influx of 2,000 patients helps to meet those needs.'

A spokeswoman for NHS Stoke on Trent said hundreds of people can be left without a GP if the PCT does not initially allocate patients to a practice.

But Dr McKeown said the PCT's actions were 'awful'. She said: 'It's appalling for local practices and not good for patients if they have to go past local GPs to get to the Darzi centre.'

GP Advertising

GMC guidance says doctors publishing information about their medical services must:

  • Make sure the information is factual and verifiable.
  • Not make unjustifiable claims about the quality or outcomes of services.
  • Not put pressure on people to use a service, for example by arousing ill-founded fears for their future health.

Concordia Health's leaflet includes information on walk-in facilities, options for registered patients and details of how to join. It also offers a discounted membership and no joining fee at leisure centres. The firm says it does not breach any rules.

Source: Good Medical Practice: providing and publishing information about your services

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