Gale's View  (May 13th 2009)

The Labour Party in Thanet likes "Darzi Clinics".  They like the idea of this Government healthcare gimmick so much that they have put out a press release criticising my colleague Laura Sandys for her opposition to the ill thought through plans to impose "polyclinics" upon an unsuspecting public.

In a leaflet circulated to the residents of South Thanet, Laura has said:

"We are campaigning against Labour's plans to shut local family doctor surgeries and force GPs and patients into large impersonal `polyclinics` instead."

Laura is, as the Thanet Labour party would have discovered had they bothered to consult with local General Practitioners, absolutely correct.  That is why I wrote, some weeks ago, to the Chief Executive of the East Kent and Coastal Primary Care Trust to enquire why, when the Government had only required them to create one `Darzi Clinic` within the area they have, in fact, chosen to provide two.

I raised the concern that, depending upon the precise location of the Thanet clinic the introduction of such an institution could well destabilise and possibly lead to the closure of General Practices to the actual detriment of my constituents` medical care.  I asked the Trust to tell me who they expected would register with "Darzi Clinics", what the payment parameters for services would be, whether the payments to the contractors would be made on the basis of registered patients (like GPs) or the total population of the area served or on procedures and interventions carried out.  I asked what indication the Primary Care Trust had of the possible location of such a clinic and what control, once a contract is awarded to a successful bidder, the Trust retained over the location.  I wanted to know what consideration had been given to the probability that it might be infinitely more cost-effective to fund additional general practitioners at existing GP services in order to extend opening hours and facilities rather than to build a new and unwanted centre.

The plan was to have a "Darzi Clinic" open in Thanet by September.  To date I have received no satisfactory answers to any of my concerns.  There has been, instead, only a vague reassertion that there is a "need" for such a service and that the Trust Board had made the decision "on a number of issues including health needs assessments and demographics of the Thanet population".  No information about costs, or basis of payment, or location.  No comment upon the potential impact upon existing and excellent GP services that, with better resources, could offer still better services.

One of my local GP practices, reflecting the general view of local Doctors, has written to me in the light of the Primary Care Trust's evasive response, to say:

"Our practice area is not under-doctored and there will be a risk of de-stabilization of local practices. The clinic would provide duplication of existing resources. There is a concern that the capital costs of building new premises will create further problems withy the involvement of Private Finance Initiative  and in these straitened times would seem inappropriate.  The money would be more appropriately spent providing jobs for newly-qualified GPs which would extend services further and also to provide better access to specialists in secondary care such as quicker out-patient appointments".

Of course, this is merely the view of the medical profession and should not be confused with the expert political opinion of the local spokespeople for the current government. (Who do you trust?)

I hope that even at this late stage the Primary Care Trust will think again and place such scarce financial resources as are still available where they are truly needed rather than where those working the medical/political strings think they ought to be spent.

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