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Camden News - by TOM FOOT
Published: 19 November 2009
Stephenson House
Stephenson House

Campaigners’ victory puts plans for a ‘super clinic’ on ice

PATIENTS are celebrating after plans to hand control of a new super-sized doctors’ surgery to a private company were dramatically put on hold.
Care UK had been due to run the new health centre in Euston but protesters argued the decision to bring in private operators ahead of neighbourhood GPs was taken without asking the public.
NHS Camden, the borough’s primary care trust, was threatened with a battle in the High Court and on Thursday changed its position and agreed to consult residents – a major victory for campaigners who oppose the new service because they believe it could force the closure of nearby surgeries.
The health authority had ignored advice from the former health minister Ben Bradshaw, local MP Frank Dobson, and criticism from the president of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Iona Heath, after naming Care UK Ltd as the preferred choice for the £20million centre without asking patients.
Critics feared that the new centre – planned for Stephenson House in Hampstead Road – would suck patients away from established surgeries in the south of the borough, all for the benefit of big companies.
Former Labour councillor Bob Austin and the Camden Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) pressure group had prepared a case for the Royal Courts of Justice over the lack of consultation and were ready for their day in court before NHS Camden wrote to their legal team, explaining its change of heart.
The U-turn, health campaigners claim, has set a precedent for save-the-NHS campaigns across the country in the battle to keep large private companies away from surgeries.
Camden KONP chairman Candy Udwin, who has organised dozens of meetings, a mass march through Camden Town, and raised costs for the legal challenge against the health centre proposals, said: “The threat of legal action has won the right for local people to be consulted over setting up this clinic. It shows what people power can do. We still have a big battle on our hands to stop more private companies taking over local doctor surgeries and to make sure we get the improvements to our NHS that we want.”
In a letter to the campaign’s legal team, NHS Camden’s lawyers confirmed: “The defendant will in due course carry out a fresh consultation on whether to pursue...a GP-led health centre in Camden and, if so, where it should be located and what services it should provide.”
Leigh Day & Co solicitor Rosa Curling, representing Mr Austin, said: “Our clients are pleased to note that despite constant denials, the PCT was not under a legal duty to consult, the PCT now accepts that it was at all times under such a legal obligation.”
Mr Dobson, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, added: “It is ridiculous it has taken a legal action to get this concession. It was a crackpot idea anyway and if there is a proper consultation I’m sure all doctors and patients will oppose it.”
The decision has thrown one of the government’s flagship healthcare reforms open to a series of similar challenges.
All primary care trusts have been instructed by the Department of Health to set up at least one of the new surgeries, known as “GP-led health centres”.
The policy has led to hundreds of millions of pounds of public money being earmarked for private contracts.
Doctors have criticised the centres fearing they will starve smaller neighbourhood surgeries of patients and force their closure.
To avoid that, GPs in south Camden formed a consortium to bid for the contract but, as the New Journal revealed in August, lost out to Care UK Ltd during a secretive tendering process.
Care UK boasts a former managing director of investment bank Merrill Lynch and a former chairman of the Venture Capitalist Association among its top directors.
NHS Camden chief executive Dr Mark Atkinson said last month he would “rigorously defend patients’ rights to the expansion of health services” in any legal case.
Instead of preparing for a visit to the High Court however, Dr Atkinson is now preparing the consultation programme.
That will include plans to open another clinic in West Hampstead, although because that centre is expected to be run by local doctors it is likely to gain support among north Camden patients.
Dr Atkinson said: “If the results show me that patients want expanded GP services in these two locations, then I will fast track the Stephenson House centre to get it opened as quickly as possible.”

Check-up – GP-led health centre guide

What is a GP-led health centre?
A building with lots of doctors and nurses in it caring for thousands of unregistered patients with extended opening hours and providing lots of important services normally found in a hospital.

Sounds great, why are people complaining?
For the first time, profit-making private companies such as Care UK are being offered millions of pounds of public money to run your doctors’ surgeries. Opponents to the policy of allowing private operators to take over say health services should not be about making profits.

Who cares who gets paid as long as I can see a doctor for free?
Private companies have a legal responsibility to boost profit for their shareholders. Critics believe companies running health services for profit on short-term contracts will be more interested in saving money than patient care. Doctors, campaigners argue, have chosen their profession because they care about the nation’s health and are not interested in company share prices.

Won’t a bit of healthy competition help? I’ve been waiting for an appointment with my local GP for weeks.
Protesters believe that market forces are not appropriate for driving up standards in the National Health Service. They say that research proves that small practices provide patients with good quality and personalised care – like old-fashioned family doctors. They also argue that larger health centres will lead to smaller surgeries – the ones that thousands of Camden residents are used to – being closed and all of the neighbourhood’s doctors being brought together under one roof.

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