GPs face conflict of interest from Virgin plan

GPC concerns over NHS practices working alongside private services in Virgin's proposed health centres.

GPs have warned that plans for Virgin-branded health centres will threaten the clinical objectivity of GPs working there.

Virgin's plan would see practices retain their existing NHS contracts, but move into centres alongside a range of Virgin-operated private services such as dentists, physiotherapy and pharmacies. Part of the practice's income would be a share of the entire centre's profits, likely to be 10 per cent.

But Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chairman, warned that this would raise questions over GPs' objectivity when referring patients to the centres' private services.

'If there are facilities in which they have a financial interest but which are effectively private clinics, that will clearly be a conflict of interest,' he said.

A Virgin spokeswoman denied that the profit share represented a conflict. 'There are no financial kickbacks, and payments would have nothing to do with referrals,' she said.

GPs who sign up to the plan will pay Virgin a management fee to cover rent costs. On top of their NHS income and their share of the profits, they would receive an unspecified Virgin quality payment, roughly analogous to the quality framework, to ensure clinical standards are maintained.

Non-clinical practice staff would become Virgin employees. All staff, including clinicians, would undergo Virgin customer training.

GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden said GPs would be wary of transferring staff to Virgin.

'Not only do you lose management control, you're facing a VAT bill for your staff, effectively adding 17.5 per cent to costs, he said.

Although Virgin says it will pay these costs, Dr Holden questioned how long that commitment will last.

Virgin is currently in detailed discussion with three practices.

jonn.elledge@haymarket.com

Virgin website

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