Future of VirginCare’s GP practices contract to be decided at NHS bosses meeting in Halifax today

This afternoon at 4.15pm Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group’s new Commissioning Primary Medical Services Committee will meet in public at the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre on Hopwood Lane, to decide on its terms of reference.

It will then consider a recommendation to extend the Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) GP contract with VirginCare, which is shortly to run out.

Richard Branson’s private health care company has run the three Meadowdale GP practices for some years – unbeknown to most patients and members of the public, as I found out a while ago.

The current contract is for about £780K, with a list of registered patients at VirginCare GP practices of around 2,102 across the three sites. The CCG report says that this contract value:

“includes a minimum income guarantee as the registered list of patients has not reached expected levels”

The proposed contract extension for the VirginCare GP practice, until April 2017, is to allow the CCG time to carry out a full assessment of the practice and its contract. Although it’s anyone’s guess why NHS England didn’t do that when it had responsibility for commissioning primary care, which it only transferred to Calderdale CCG in April this year.

The report says that before ending an APMS GP contract, the CCG and “local stakeholders” should consider what GP services the area needs. Presumably “local stakeholders” include the Calderdale public.

The Meadowdale Practice and Park Ward and Todmorden Walk in Centres were both privatised as part of the New Labour government’s “Equitable Access to Primary Care” scheme.

This scheme to open up GP services to “the market” and to set up Independent Sector Treatment Centres (where private health care companies carry out some treatments previously only available in hospitals – and often mess up their patients badly) was slated by GPs and health policy academics at the time, on grounds that included:

  • It would open the door to “the aggressive commercial takeover of general practice and other NHS clinical services”
  • APMS GP contracts are more costly than standard GP contracts.
  • It would destabilise GP practices and services and undermine GPs’ professional autonomy by handing control of practices to commercial managers and shareholders

Private APMS contractors have abandoned GP contracts that didn’t live up to their profit expectations, as happened with Care UK, the other private company that gained an APMS contract in Calderdale. After a lengthy process, Locala then took over the two walk in centres (one in Park Ward, the other in Todmorden) that Care UK had walked away from.

For the avoidance of possible confusion, the Locala service goes under the name of the Calder Community GP Practice and is on the second floor of Tod Health Centre. The traditional NHS GP practice that is also housed in the Todmorden Health Centre is called the Todmorden Group Practice.

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