comment: Private provision of core GP services will address doctor shortage

Published: 12/08/2004, Volume II4, No. 5918 Page 15

The quietness with which the concept of 'alternative provider medical services' has crept into primary care policy belies its potential importance. As HSJ reveals (news, pages 5-7), an increasing number of primary care trusts want to take advantage of these new powers to use private companies to provide core GP services for the first time.

This offers a solution to chronic GP shortages, especially in large urban areas.

Entrepreneurial private practices, for example, will undoubtedly look at the lucrative opportunities available filling service gaps across swathes of under-served London.

The policy also seems entirely in keeping with ministers' assertion that it is the quality and efficiency of care rather than its source that matters. However, despite the groundbreaking nature of the idea, there is an imbalance between its national profile and the speed with which it is being introduced in some areas. It may be that the government is worried about criticism - especially from GPs who may lose out on revenue in the face of outside competition - and believes a softly softly approach is best.

The problem is that appearing to introduce a policy by stealth will do nothing to bolster the confidence of those who have to argue for its merits at local level.