Published: 14/04/2005, Volume II5, No. 5951 Page 11
The UK's first independent primary care walk-in centres at railway stations will open this spring - even though the government has yet to sign off its contract with the unknown provider.
Department of Health head of access policy, development and capacity Bob Ricketts told HSJ he is 'absolutely confident the centres will start to open this spring', despite admitting that he has 'not yet reached financial close' on the deal with the private sector provider.
The government had promised that all seven of the commuter centres would be open 'in spring 2005' in its original announcement last November. But now Mr Ricketts says the seven centres will be gradually be 'brought on stream from this spring as we always planned to do'.
Health minister John Hutton stuck by the original commitment in January when he revealed centres would open at Liverpool Street, Canary Wharf, King's Cross and Victoria in London; as well as Leeds, Manchester Piccadilly and Newcastle.
The government is investing£25m in the centres over three years and intends to manage the contracts centrally for five years at least.
Primary care trusts in the selected areas have privately expressed concern at how little involvement they have had with designing contracts for which they may eventually assume responsibility.
But Mr Ricketts insists the DoH has been 'alive' to PCT concerns and has promised he 'will not sign off any deals until each PCT is absolutely comfortable it is right for their population.' The centres are expected to offer general primary care services such as blood pressure checks, treatment for minor injuries, prescription and pharmacy services and, crucially, will offer non-appointment access throughout the working week to an estimated 30,000 patients a year.
Mr Ricketts said the DoH had received a 'very strong response from the market' and had considered bids from a mix of UK and international companies.
He added that the procurement process had been a 'useful template test for [alternative provider medical services] procurement in terms of 'assessing what the private sector can do in primary care and what the level of interest is'.