The dispute over proposals for new polyclinics has escalated to a new peak of acrimony between the Government and the Conservative Party and the British Medical Association (BMA). Originally mooted in Health Minister Lord Darzi’s 2007 Healthcare For London review of services, polyclinics are generally understood to be large new buildings serving urban populations of around 50,000, that will co-locate several GPs with a variety of nurses, therapists and a range of on-site diagnostic tests and possibly minor day surgery facilities.

The BMA’s new press campaign has portrayed polyclinics as a threat to local general practice, drawing analogies with closures of post offices and local branches of banks. This adds to previous criticisms of polyclinics by the Conservative Party, whose leader David Cameron suggested that the proposed 150 polyclinincs would threaten up to 1,700 GP practices (20% of the UK’s total) with closure. However, it remains unclear how this figure has been reached.

Johnson’s response
Health Secretary Alan Johnson has weighted into the controversy. Writing in The Observer, he criticised “the way in which our plans for primary care and GP services have been the subject of gross misrepresentation. The Tories are claiming that our plans mean the closure of 1,700 surgeries. There is nothing further from the truth and it is extremely disappointing that the BMA would speak in equally lurid and inaccurate terms”.

"Untruths, scaremongering and misleading claims"
In unusually strong language, Johnson characterised the positions of the BMA and the Conservatives as “untruths”, and “scaremongering and misleading claims”. He added, “far from reducing the provision of GP services, we are increasing and enhancing them. We are already investing £250m in 100 new GP practices and 150 GP-led centres”.

New funding and no GP surgery closures
Johnson told the launch of a new DH report on health inequalities “we’re making £250 million of new funding available to areas with the least ratio of doctors to population. This will enable every PCT to have a GP-led health centre open from 8 am to 8 pm. It’s a ludicrous misrepresentation by the BMA and Tories – and a recreation of their double-act to oppose the creation of the NHS.

“It will not lead to closure of existing services, and it wil not force GPs into ‘super-practices’. These GP-led centres are additional investment for increased capacity, and those opposing them reveal with alarming clarity their alarming unwillingness to invest in better services for poorer areas.”