GP superpractice in talks to buy a hospital and recruit GP trainees from China

A 100,000-patient GP 'superpractice' in an NHS vanguard area plans to buy a hospital from a struggling foundation trust, and is in discussions with China about bringing medical students to train in England.

Robert Harris, chief executive of the Lakeside Healthcare group of practices - one of the biggest GP partnerships in England - is due to meet Chinese officials next week with a view to bringing students to train in its practices.

The organisation is also planning a similar scheme for India and plans to buy a hospital from a foundation trust which is in financial difficulties, Mr Harris revealed.

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum event in central London on Thursday Mr Harris said the superpractice, which is developing a vanguard multispecialty community provider (MCP) around its five Northamptonshire practices, wanted to become a teaching and training practice of repute.

GP training

The Lakeside chief executive was visiting China this week, he revealed, 'talking to Chinese institutions and ministers about bringing Chinese students to come and train with us'. 'We are doing the same with India,' he added.

Mr Harris, a former director of strategy at NHS England and investment banker, said he was looking to Asia for trainees partly because many of those recruited at home 'don't particularly want to stick around in general practice'.

After going through training at the practice, he said, around 40% do want to remain in general practice. 'We convert people on the way to Damascus,' he said.

Mr Harris said his group's commercial approach allowed it to pay staff well with a year-on-year uplift, capital value growth and more patients being seen. The 100,000-patient superpractice wants to expand through its MCP plans to 300,000 patients next year.

The MCP is expanding the role of practices to take on services traditionally provided in hospitals.

Mr Harris revealed that the group was buying a hospital from a foundation trust which he said was in 'serious financial difficulty'.

NHS funding

'On that site we plan to bring a number of practices into a new polyclinic, but also have a number of beds, about 35 to 40.'

Beds could be used for a range of services including minor surgery and dentistry, he said. 'But we need to bring consultants out of hospitals around us to work in that setting. Supported with, working with my GP colleagues.'

The CEO said he was 'delighted' to be surrounded by 'failing hospitals', because 'in hospital failure, there exists opportunity'. 'We can take them solutions... and opportunities for us.'

Lakeside has also asked commissioners to be able to take control of the full risk of a capitated budget for all its patients' care. 'The guarantee to commissioners is this: you give us the capitated sum of money, we don't come back asking for more, the way the system has worked for the last 25 years.' However, the group was turned down.

Worcestershire LMC secretary Dr Simon Parkinson asked why GPs should be expected to take on 'personal financial liability' to expand and secure services to 'deal with the financial problems of the NHS'.

Former RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada warned that the Lakeside model was 'inventing [US-style] HMOs', and could lead to providers cherry-picking profitable services 'or, you go bankrupt'.

In the United States, she said, 'vast majorities of these organisations go bankrupt'. She added: 'You only need a family of four to have a catastrophic car accident with lifelong care.'

Photo: iStock

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