The British Medical Association has criticised the government’s plans for leaning on the commercial sector to help introduce a new type of GP centre on the high street.

The government announced earlier this year that it would provide 100 new practices and 150 health centres in under-doctored areas to help increase access to primary are and the health inequalities that are still rife across the nation. The BMA has welcomed this move, but takes issue with the planned involvement of the private sector in the running of some of these centres.

In a letter to Darzi, Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GPs Committee, argued that practices run by private organisations “would be at a distinct disadvantage compared to those registered with a ‘traditional’ general practice, exacerbating rather than alleviating health inequalities.”

This, he explains, is because private organisations operate with a salaried or locum staffing model “where the turnover of employed doctors is often high, running costs are higher than traditional models of general practice and quality scores are lower”.

Buckman slams the government for “wasting time and energy on stimulating markets within the NHS and developing new practices rather than supporting existing ones”, and says the focus should be on investing in improving existing services as opposed to establishing new ones.

Furthermore, he says the government’s insitence on longer working hours, when “more than eight out of ten patients are content with their GP opening hours and only a small section of the population wants evening or weekend opening”, is an irresponsible use of scarce resources, and claims that if patients were aware of where the funding to pay for longer hours is being diverted from they may “feel very differently about these proposals”.

The traditional way
The BMA is very much behind the traditional general practice, and says that current proposals for change “are designed to meet the demands of the articulate at the expense of those in real clinical need”, and could ultimately a “second class service to areas of the country that already have significant health inequalities”.

But the government remains steadfast in its belief that introducing a more competitive element to primary care will help to boost the quality of the service, and has organised a conference today to help tout the opportunities and entice bids from private companies to run the planned new health centres, according to the Financial Times.