Exclusive: Darzi centre ad targets GPs' patients

A PCT has launched an investigation after its Darzi centre sent 'upsetting' letters to elderly patients encouraging them to switch practices.

Aspect Health, based at St Helens Hospital (above), has apologised for its ‘error of judgment’ (Photograph: St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals NHS Trust)
Aspect Health, based at St Helens Hospital (above), has apologised for its ‘error of judgment’ (Photograph: St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals NHS Trust)

GPs in St Helens, Merseyside found their patients with limited mobility had received letters encouraging them to register with the local GP-led health centre, which offers a home-visiting service called ElderCare. The letters were put together by an advertising agency.

Aspect Health, which runs the service at the Sherdley medical centre in St Helens Hospital, has since apologised for the 'error of judgment'.

Dr John Chen, a GP at the Filletti and Sword practice in St Helens, said local GPs were 'up in arms' about the letters, which had 'upset and confused' some of their elderly patients.

'Money is being wasted on advertising when there are cutbacks and front line services are already set up and on offer to patients,' said Dr Chen. 'If they succeed, and patients move, some smaller surrounding practices may have to close.'

DoH guidance says that material promoting NHS services must not misguide or suggest a service is better than others.

Dr Michael Van Dessel, on behalf of Aspect Health's ElderCare, said the letter 'in no way attempted to take patients away from existing GP practices or say ElderCare services were any better than those provided by other GP practices'.

He added: 'A letter has now been hand-delivered to all GP practices in St Helens, apologising for this incident and explaining that ElderCare never had any intention to cause distress or have an adverse affect on other local GPs.'

Halton and St Helens PCT said it was 'extremely concerned' by the letter, and has launched an investigation.

GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the dispute was a 'predictable consequence' of introducing competition in primary care.

'Many of the Darzi centre contracts have, built into them, expectations of a growth in list size. When health centres fail to achieve that, they end up resorting to aggressive tactics to attract patients.'

Dr Nagpaul said disputes between imposed Darzi health centres would continue to obstruct co-operation and federation between practices.

DoH Code of Practice

The DoH code of practice on promoting NHS services says marketing material:

  • Should contain nothing that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
  • Should not undermine the reputation of any individual providers, clinicians or other health professionals.
  • Direct marketing to the public must comply with all relevant data protection legislation.

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