Just 14 of the 54 polyclinic contracts announced so far have been won by the private sector. These figures were revealed in a study by Pulse magazine, which also showed that of the contracts announced to date, consortia led by existing NHS GPs and practices had won 18 of the contracts. GP practices applying singly had won four contracts. In December 2008, Pulse reported that month that private companies had submitted almost 1,800 expressions of interest to run GP-led health centres.

Polyclinics are one-stop-shops for primary care, which will include diagnostic testing equipment and even facilities for minor surgery. The Government has instructed every PCT in England to introduce a polyclinic, open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.

Last week’s Commons Health Select Committee report on Health Minister Lord Darzi’s 2008 Next-Stage Review of the NHS concluded that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ decision to mandate the creation of polyclinics everywhere was not justified.

Critics of polyclinics suggest that the personal continuity of care of traditional general pracyice would be undermined by their arrtival. Their supporters depict polyclinics as an aid to the working population, who find GP access difficult, and also a means fo addressing the ‘under-doctored’ areas of the country – usually the poorest areas – where there are significantly less GPs per 1,000 of the population.

Private winners
One private company, Assura, has won four joint contracts, collaborating with local GPs in the Coventry, Hartlepool, Bath and North-East Somerset and Stockton-on-Tees trusts. Primecare, which is part of Nestor Healthcare Group, will run centres in Herefordshire and Cornwall.

Dr Mark Hunt, managing director of Care UK, which is set to run two new centres in Brighton and Hove City PCT and NHS South East Essex, suggested to Pulse that private sector involvement in the procurement would benefit patients: “Care UK has a track record of working with PCTs across the country to provide high quality primary care services. These walk-in centres provide easy to access care to patients who have traditionally found it difficult to get access to the care they need when they need it”.

BMA: still opposed
BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum hit the headlines earlier this month when it emerged his own practice had been part of a successful bid for a GP-led health centre in east Yorkshire. Addressing BMA members, he recently repeated the BMA’s opposition to the Government’s “obsession” with introducing the private sector into the NHS.

Meldrum added, "It does strike me as bizarre that at exactly the same time as the Government seems to be taking the banks into public ownership, they are still trying to flog out parts of the NHS to the private sector.The BMA will be continuing its fight against the commercialisation of the NHS and we’ll want your support in that fight".