OFT questions takeover of 22 Merseyside practices

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) could investigate plans to allow a GP-led private company to take over 22 GP practices on Merseyside over fears the move could undermine competition.

Dr Rob Barnett: practices are concerned about takeover

GPs and patients have until today to have their say on whether the OFT should investigate the plans for SSP Health Ltd, run by a husband and wife pair of Wigan GPs, to operate the Merseyside practices.

The two GPs, Drs Sanjay and Shikha Pitalia, were the 2009 winners of the GP Enterprise Awards for an innovative scheme that used a text message service to cut missed appointments.

But the OFT has launched an ‘invitation to comment’ on the decision to award preferred bidder status to SSP Health by two PCTs, Liverpool PCT and NHS Sefton. The OFT is assessing whether it has jurisdiction to investigate the matter.

Liverpool LMC secretary Dr Rob Barnett said that the 22 practices are worried about the potential takeover but that the LMC has not submitted any evidence to the OFT.

He said: ‘It hasn’t because the criteria on which the OFT will look at something is very narrow so it would be difficult to challenge the decision.

‘You don’t have anyone who is looking at the overall exercise to provide a holistic picture as to what is going on.

‘In some situations neighbouring practices put in bids. Local hospitals put in bids to take over some or all. There was quite a variety.

‘You could have had a decision that practice A went somewhere and B somewhere else.'

In January, GPs demanded thousands of pounds in compensation after the PCTs cancelled a previous tendering process for 17 of the practices. At the time, the PCTs said it was cancelled because the specification for contractors failed to ‘adequately define the minimum standards of patient care’ required.

Spokespeople for the PCTs and SSP Health were unavailable to comment.

* Blog: Car crash of tendering practices concerns OFT

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