Central Lancashire Primary Care trust has recently announced plans to open a “primary care assessment centre” – or “polyclinic” – in Preston.
The plans involve opening a large health centre in the city with GPs, dentists and a variety of auxiliary health care providers on site.
The PCT have heralded this as a new dawn for the NHS locally. They have emphasised that services will be available seven days a week from 8am to 8pm. They say that there will be a drop-in service available for city residents to see a health professional at a time that suits them – one that can be structured around work and not involve taking time off for a GP appointment.
But the service represents a significant threat to local health care provision.
First, although initially the number of patients registered in the new polyclinic will be restricted this limit is likely to be removed after the first phase of development. As such this poses a significant threat to locally based GP services.
The pressure will be for the “health care market” to decide where resources are allocated and smaller, local, family orientated GPs are likely to be squeezed. GP practice closures will detrimentally impact on the poor, the disabled, lone parents and the elderly.
Secondly, the polyclinic model also opens up services to private providers of health care. This is another significant step in the privatisation of health care – and is also likely to have an impact on local hospitals and the services they are able to provide.
Lancashire PCT’s plans were announced in March and tenders have already been sent out to interested parties. There has been no formal consultation – perhaps a reflection of the fact that the PCT got a rough time in 2007 when it “consulted” over the introduction of privatised health services in the city.
Last Thursday Preston City Council passed a motion submitted by Respect/Left List Councillor Michael Lavalette demanding that the PCT appear before a specially convened Council Scrutiny meeting to explain their behaviour and plans. The council meeting will also hear evidence from the BMA and Unison.
While the council initiative is useful it must be combined with local campaigning by those determined to keep the NHS public. The coalition of unions, community activists and councillors who defeated the privatisation plans in 2007 needs to be reinvigorated if the current attack is to be defeated.