The NHS Alliance has called for “complete transparency and financial accountability” from private bidders vying for a chance to set up the 100 new GP practices and 150 new GP-led health centres ordered by Health Minister Sir Ara Darzi in his interim report on the National Health Service.

Last month, Sir Ara laid out some immediate steps to be taken prior to the release of his final report next year to help move beyond the mere expansion of the Service and focus on delivering real benefits to patients as quickly as possible.

Central to this is an injection of new resources into primary care in areas with the poorest provision. Furthermore, a batch of new health centres, or polyclinics, in easily-accessible locations should offer a whole host of convenient services to patients, and primary care trusts must bring in new measures to help expand GP surgeries’ opening hours.

The Alliance has voiced its support for the provision of these new practices in areas of need as well as the planned new health centres, particularly as there is much evidence to suggest that mortality rates and health outcomes are affected by the doctor-patient ration as well as the provision of primary care, it said.

Financial clarity
However, the organisation stressed in its position paper Primary care and GP access that commercial and third sector providers should operate on a level playing field with traditional NHS services, which includes offering the same clarity of finances.

“Commercial confidentiality should never be accepted as an excuse to keep secrets about how tax payers’ money is spent,” said NHS Alliance chairman Dr Michael Dixon, insisting that the same rules should apply across the board.

On a different note, the Alliance agrees that access to primary care “for a minority of patients” is in need of improvement, but that this relates to teams of healthcare professionals as opposed to just GPs.

Furthermore, it says the costs associated with extending opening hours – such as for increased staffing – should be funded by the primary care trust and not subsidised by the practice, given that PCTs hold legal responsibility for patient care.

The group stressed that extended hours should be voluntary and based on local patient need, and suggested collaborative working between smaller practices to help them deliver care during evenings and weekends.

Sir Ara Darzi’s final report is expected in June next year, just before the NHS celebrates its 60th birthday in July.