• Sunderland GP resigns over procurement of new contract
  • Sunderland GP Alliance awarded controversial contract bringing together three practices and a violent patients programme
  • Doctor fears contract will “adversely affect” services

PRIMARY CARE: A GP has resigned following the procurement of a primary care contract that merges three Sunderland practices.

A contract was recently awarded to Sunderland GP Alliance bringing together three practices and a violent patients programme. Dr Ashley Liston, a GP at one of the practices, has resigned over “major concerns” that services will be “adversely affected” by the new arrangements.

The three practices – Encompass GP Surgery, Barmston Medical Centre and Pennywell Medical Centre – previously operated under separate alternative provider medical services contracts, worth a combined £1.78m a year.

Last autumn, Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group chose to merge the three contracts and went to market to find a single provider.

The new contract, worth £970,000 a year, was awarded to the Sunderland GP Alliance earlier this month, covering 13,000 patients. The contract includes £1m of transitional payments over four years and starts in October.

The CCG has made clear that amounts awarded in the new contract amount are not directly comparable to amounts in the original block contracts.

The procurement process for the contract has been controversial and was previously criticised by patients and local GPs.

In March, HSJ reported that the CCG was forced to tender the contract for a second time in three months because no viable bids had been made.

In a letter announcing his resignation to patients, Dr Liston said: “The new contract has a sizeable reduction in funding as well as the complexities of merging three practices. It is for these reasons that I felt unable to bid for this contract.”

Dr Liston told HSJ this week: “I have major concerns about the service being adversely affected. I feel it is inconceivable that our [practice’s] rapid response telephone consulting could be continued once practices are merged. Trying to run that across four sites is unimaginable.

“The new model of service provision will alter how the service is experienced by patients. It saddens me that patients haven’t been consulted. This was on the basis that they did not need to be consulted because the services will not change. I think that is disingenuous.”

Debbie Burnicle, Sunderland CCG deputy chief officer, said: “As NHS commissioners, we have a responsibility to review all contracts as they come to an end. We understand that this process can be unsettling for providers, but this is an important part of our commitment to commissioning quality services while making the best possible use of NHS resources.

“95 per cent of the criteria for awarding the contract were focused on quality.

“There is no change to the service to be provided under the new contract, and care for all the patients affected has been our overriding concern throughout this process.”

In May, the local medical committee in Sunderland reported that three GPs had the left the affected practices “due to the uncertainty of the APMS process”.