Tower Hamlets and Hackney are to be two of the six places in England to pilot the controversial NHS reform which will abolish GP practice boundaries, the Department of Health has announced.
The east London boroughs will join NHS services in Westminster, Salford, Manchester and Nottingham City at the beginning of April in being the first to test the new policies spearheaded by Health Secretary Andew Lansley.
Patients in these areas will be allowed to register or receive a consultation with a GP practice of their choice, even if it falls outside of their normal catchment area. The pilot scheme will last for one year, and will be reviewed by the Department of Health in April 2013.
Implementing the pilot policy in London, Manchester and Nottingham will cost the government an estimated £2 million.
Lansley said: “Many patients are happy with their local GP practice, but a significant minority have problems registering with a practice of their choice. This pilot will mean patients taking part can access the high quality care they deserve in a place and at a time that suits them.
“That’s why I believe patients should have the freedom to choose a GP practice that suits their lives, and not be restricted by geographical boundaries”, Lansley continued.
But Hackney GPs have expressed concern over the arrival of the new scheme and believe patient care will be hindered because of it.
Dr Jackie Davis, consultant radiologist and founder member of the national ‘Keep Our NHS Public’ campaign said: “GPs have geographical boundaries to their practices so they can look after everybody in those areas. If you abolish those boundaries, then GPs can choose who they would like to look after. Therefore the elderly or the chronically sick patients, who cost a lot of money, become less attractive.”
Hackney GP, Dr Anne Solomon, said: “Removing geographical boundaries will damage continuity of care, threaten the ability to treat patients from home, and increase risks for vulnerable people or children in need of protection. The relationship patients currently have with their doctors will likely be lost.”
Critics say the pilot scheme was imposed on NHS City and Hackney and NHS Tower Hamlets by the Department of Health without the consent and input from any of the borough’s practices or doctors. Hackney GPs say they fear that with just two months until the policy is put into action, there are still too many unanswered questions and uncertainties for the pilot to operate smoothly.
Dr Deborah Colvin, a GP in Hackney, said: “As local GPs we have never been officially informed that our borough had been selected for a pilot, we have had to read it in the national press.
“Many crucial details have not been thought through and answers to questions are just not there. For example, there are no answers to how maternity care will be covered or what will happen to patients with mental health issues working with community support teams.”
Dr Adam Forman, chair of City and Hackney British Medical Association branch said: “The BMA agreed to a pilot in principle, but this is more a last minute dash than a well thought out improvement to patient care. Unless this pilot is radically rethought I cannot see BMA members in City and Hackney volunteering to take part.”