GP warning on threat from private providers

Exclusive - Two thirds of GPs urge cap on private provision and back BMA's anti-commercialisation campaign.

GPs have called for a cap on private providers in the NHS, warning that expansionist GP-led companies are as big a threat to general practice as other private firms.

Nearly 60 per cent of those who replied to a GP newspaper survey agreed that such consortia - sometimes partnerships with private firms - are just as much of a threat to traditional general practice as commercial providers. Just 19 per cent disagreed. A total of 273 GPs responded to the survey.

One GP said GP-led private firms 'appear to have an inordinate amount of clout for their relatively small proportion of involvement in the sector'.

The survey found that 16 per cent of GPs see private involvement in the health service as the biggest threat to general practice. But it is seen as a lesser threat than the rise in salaried GPs (21 per cent) and political interference in the health service (38 per cent).

Most GPs were concerned that private providers were 'cherry picking' easy, profitable services, leaving the hard work to the NHS (78 per cent, compared to just 5 per cent who disagree). And a majority (64 per cent) backed a 'cap' on private provision (see box above).

But more GPs think there is a role for the private sector (45 per cent) than think it should be barred entirely (41 per cent).

One GP argued that private services 'could take some of the pressure off GPs' shoulders'.

Another said that the commercial sector acts as a 'whip to stop the public sector getting sloppy'.

Dr David Jenner, GMS lead at the NHS Alliance, said that collaboration was more likely to 'get you most bangs for your buck' in the health service.

But he added: 'The truth is that GPs are paranoid about competition because for the past 20 years because they have not been exposed to much.

'The bias against private providers is huge. PCT commissioners often feel more comfortable with GPs they know than private providers they don't.'

He added that competition would be a bigger threat if a Conservative government went ahead with plans to deregulate the primary care market.

Although 72 per cent of GPs said they felt that commercialisation was a threat to general practice, just 8 per cent said their own practice was at risk.

The survey also found that the profession is broadly supportive of the BMA's anti-commercialisation campaign, with 73 per cent backing it.

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