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Bar private providers from NHS general practice, says BMA Scotland

3 June 2009

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The BMA has called on the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee to support plans that would prevent commercial companies from providing NHS general practice services to patients.

The Tobacco and Primary Medical Services Bill includes proposals to amend the 1978 NHS Act to remove the ability for commercial companies to hold primary medical services contracts. It is this clause, says the BMA, that has allowed the rapid expansion of commercially provided NHS GP services in England.

Dr Dean Marshall (pictured), Chairman of the BMA’s Scottish GPs’ Committee, said: “The bond of trust between patient and GP is most valued by the public. Accountability to a commercial employer and short-term contracts are an uncertain basis for the long-term relationship between professionals and patients upon which effective primary care depends.

“Commercial providers of primary care services usually have a responsibility to their shareholders to make a profit, whereas the NHS GP has the care of patients at the heart of their decision making.”

Dr Marshall told the health committee of the BMA’s concerns that “if commercial providers are awarded contracts to provide primary medical services, then patient care will suffer and services that are not profitable will be lost.”

He said: “The provision of services in rural areas and deprived communities are costly. Rather than increase services, particularly in rural areas, in the long term it will not be viable for commercial providers to maintain certain services and patient care and access to health services will diminish.”

UK GPs’ Committee representative Dr Beth McCarron Nash, a practising GP in Cornwall, also told the health committee that “GPs in England have seen the negative impact of the commercialisation agenda, with the imposition of privately run polyclinics.”

She added: “We believe government policies in England to allow commercially-run firms to provide NHS services are not delivering as promised, and they risk fragmenting patient care.

“We don’t want to see Scotland go the same way.”

BMA Scotland