Virgin reveals its primary care plans

Proposals for Virgin-branded GP surgeries offer premises, but steer clear of APMS contracts.

Plans for Virgin-branded health centres have been welcomed by GPs, especially as the organisation wants only to work with existing practices.

Virgin Healthcare proposes to provide new buildings and administrative services to existing practices but ruled out making APMS bids. It will also offer a range of other services, such as pharmacies, complementary therapy and gyms on site.

The company plans to open its first new health centre, in the M4 corridor, this summer. Five more are planned for 2009.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey welcomed Virgin's stance on APMS bids. But he added GPs would 'want to know the company's intentions and long-term plans' before any moved into a Virgin health centre.

His GPC colleague Dr Peter Holden, meanwhile, said bluntly that he did not want his 'professional name attached to some hairy record shop owner'.

Virgin's plans follow a similar model to those proposed by Boots the Chemist last year, to allow as many as 200 primary care organisations to provide practices in its stores. Both would see GPs retain their existing contracts and independent status.

The move contrasts with the government's plans to create 250 new surgeries through APMS.

'Lots will be run by the private sector,' health secretary Alan Johnson told The Guardian last week. 'We will bring in GPs employed by private organisations.'

Private companies' apparently lack of enthusiasm for APMS has led some to question whether there are profits to be made in serving under-doctored areas, as the government hoped.

'Our only profit line goes to pay the GPs,' said Dr Holden. 'There isn't enough for companies to pay GPs and develop the business unless the government is giving them a bung.'

Dr James Kingsland, National Association of Primary Care chairman, questioned why private companies would want to 'plug the gap in GP services as the NHS hasn't managed it'.

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