Letters: Modernising NHS is not an overnight job

Dear Editor

How can the BMA be so confident as to declare that general practice is 'bursting at the seams' when its claims are based on a survey of fewer than 3 per cent of GP practices ('75 per cent of premises inadequate for future services', GP, 19 May)?

A closer look reveals that the BMA's survey does not present the true picture of premises improvements.

The BMA has to realise that the largest and most sustained modernisation of GP practices and health centres in the history of the NHS is not going to be completed overnight. We are not talking about a Changing Rooms-style makeover where a lick of paint counts as a major refurbishment.

In many cases, improvements to patient services require expansion or change to the buildings from which care is provided. Anything but a completely original approach based on these firm foundations would short-change patients and leave GPs inadequately supported.

Funding is in place for a new generation of premises that will be unrecognisable from anything previous; with many new centres providing a range of services traditionally only found in a hospital all under one roof. We have made available £2 billion in capital allocations for this year, in additional to the £1 billion in funding that has already been injected through NHS LIFT.

These NHS LIFT schemes have delivered over 69 buildings already open to patients, with another 50 or so expected to be open during 2006.

Inevitably, with a portfolio totalling around 10,500 buildings, many over 30 years old and a significant proportion being converted from retail or domestic property, much still remains to be done. We will go on investing in better premises for primary care and community services but in ways that benefit patients.

GPs should not be in the business of preserving a legacy of premises unfit for the NHS's future needs.

It is now up to practices to work proactively with the local NHS to access this funding and address any concerns they have over premises, while recognising there cannot be a supersurgery at the end of every street.

Lord Norman Warner, Health minister.

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