Exclusive: Darzi centre targets GPs' elderly patients

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

St Helens Hospital: 'upsetting' letters (Photograph: St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals NHS Trust)
St Helens Hospital: 'upsetting' letters (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 judgement'.

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 has been 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 of the smaller surrounding practices may be forced to close,' he said.

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.

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