It seems that the government’s new wave of polyclinics are not performing as expected, as new research has found they are providing a volume and range of services similar to that of normal GP centres.

The observational study, which looked at a total of 384 practices in 14 primary care trusts in England and was published in the British Journal of General Practice, found little difference in the service provision of practices of an average size of 6,300 patients compared to supersurgeries with 30,000 patients.

The idea of polyclinics - first put forward by Sir Ara Darzi in his report Healthcare For London back in 2007 – is that that they should offer patients a much wider range of secondary care services, such as diabetes clinics and on-site diagnostic testing, to take some of the heat off hospitals and push more care into the heart of the community.

The government is plugging millions of pounds in the creation of polyclinics around the country, but the researchers conclude that there seems to be “little merit” in creating ‘supersurgeries’ if their aim is to take work away from hospitals as this is not currently happening. “Taxpayers' money is being spent on doing these projects and I don't know if it will be value for money”, said study author Dr Hendrik Beerstecher, according to media reports.

The British Medical Association has long questioned the cost-effectiveness of supersurgeries, particularly as it argues there are already community hospitals providing intermediate care services, GPs with special interests who are able to treat more patients in their surgeries, and many consultant-led community health services based in premises outside of hospital.

Undermining general practice?
“The BMA has long had concerns that the compulsion to establish polyclinics in every part of the country, regardless of need, would undermine existing general practice rather than improve services for patients,” the Association said, and added: "that the investment in new polyclinics should be diverted to existing services which already have proven ability to innovate and provide an expanded range of services."

But the Department of Health maintains that polyclinics will offer a “valuable service” to patients around the country, “particularly if they want to see a GP when they are away from home or at times that their local GP practice is not open”.

“They will be open seven days a week from 8am-8pm 365 days a year and anyone will be able to walk in and see a doctor as well as being registered with their usual GP,” the DH said in an emailed statement to PharmaTimes.