GPC fears over market approach to NHS care

GP leaders have raised concerns about continuity of care at GP-led health centres, after corporate takeovers meant the firms behind nearly one in 10 changed in a week.

Dr Hunt: same GPs and clinicians
Dr Hunt: same GPs and clinicians

Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group bought a 75.1 per cent stake in Assura Group's GPCo medical services business last week. In an interim report last September, Assura said it owned 30 GPCos serving 3.1 million patients. Around half of these are GP-led health centres.

Meanwhile, Care UK, which runs primary care services including 11 GP-led health centres, one GP practice and four GP out-of-hours services, has been acquired by private equity firm Bridgepoint. Both Care UK and Virgin said frontline provision and management of care would be unaffected by the takeovers.

But GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said it was 'not in patients' interests' for healthcare to be a commodity passed from one firm to another.

'Patients want stability. They don't want to suddenly find that a practice they developed a relationship with has changed overnight without consultation.'

He added: 'It's inevitable this will start to happen, and PCTs should be concerned about it as much as GPs are.'

But Dr Mark Hunt, managing director of healthcare at Care UK, said: 'This misses the point. The move will result in the same GPs and the same clinicians.

The change will be in how cash is accessed to provide services.

'There has been difficulty getting loans and money from banks recently, so the route to help fund the growth of Care UK is through private equity.'

He said investment would result in a 'better-built environment' for patients and added that he hoped to double the size of Care UK within five years.

A spokesman for Virgin Group said: 'Patients will not see any difference. The idea is that we are investing in the business, and looking to invest between £15 and £20 million over the next three to four years to expand what has already been started.

'We are giving Assura the finances to expand to create more continuity.'

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