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By Helen Mooney...
By Helen Mooney

Emergency discussions are due to take place today over the viability of a key part of the£3.8m national procurement programme for under-doctored areas as rumours circulate that half the scheme could be scrapped.

The scheme, to bring in independent companies to run practices in six areas with a shortage of doctors, is in danger in at least one of the sites. The programme could also be shelved in a further three areas.

Health Service Journal understands that financial pressures mean Bradford City, Plymouth, and Hyndburn and Ribble Valley primary care trusts are considering no longer awarding contracts to private sector providers to run practices where they have struggled to recruit enough GPs.

Care UK has already won preferred bidder status with South Sefton PCT. But as HSJ went to press the parties were set to hold discussions on the scheme's viability. A PCT spokesperson said that once the negotiations were complete the Sefton board would be 'invited to approve the procurement of these services'.

Both Hyndburn and Ribble Valley and Plymouth PCTs declined to comment on the scheme and Bradford City PCT said its procurement process was 'still under review'.

A DoH spokesperson said: 'It is premature to say that any of these pilot schemes have been cancelled. Two of the pilots have already started delivering services to patients and the remaining four are in the process of holding negotiations with bidders, with decisions expected to be made in the coming weeks.'

The national procurement programme has already been dogged by delays. The DoH originally said the first wave of pilots 'would get under way in the summer of 2005' and a second wave would be announced by the end of last year. But invitations to tender for the first wave were not published until July last year.

Of the six original pilot sites only two have gone ahead. Last month Barking and Dagenham PCT signed a deal with Care UK to run a 7,000-patient GP practice and a 100-patient-a-day walk in centre. And this week Mercury Health is set to take over the running of a GP practice in City and Hackney teaching PCT.

In April, home care specialist Clinovia pulled out of the bidding for a contract covering 3,000 patients in Hyndburn and Ribble Valley PCT. At the time, Clinovia chief executive Robbie Burns said he had told the DoH that its 'incredibly prescriptive' specifications for contracts, requiring expensive bids, would discourage bidders.

Concerns have also been raised over stipulations that new providers are not allowed to recruit locally.

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