In response to pleas for more personalized health services across the public sector, the Health Secretary of UK has announced the setting up of a link between GPs and supermarkets.
The most under-doctored areas of UK include Hartlepool, County Durham, Mansfield and Great Yarmouth . Here patients do not find enough GPs or surgeries to tend to their ailments. So as part of the drive to improve access to these deprived areas, supermarkets and other private firms are being invited to bid, to run GP surgeries.
AdvertisementThe contracts will include GP clinics as well as out-of-hours surgeries, such as early evenings and breakfast times.
There is currently very limited private involvement in GP surgeries. Firms run by GPs run several services across the country. But recently, private firms have begun to win contracts to provide GP services.
The ministers believe this move will help to fill in gaps in patient care as well as improve accessibility of these services.
Says Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt: "GPs are largely providing a good service, but there are still areas where NHS patients cannot rely on traditional practices.
"We now want to help the NHS plug the last remaining gaps by introducing new services, reducing the pressure on existing ones."
There has been mixed reactions from the British Medical Association (BMA). The BMA is generally critical of the concept of supermarkets hosting GP centres.
At its annual conference last year, delegates said supermarkets were inappropriate places to have health services as they sold unhealthy products such as alcohol, tobacco and junk food.
While Hamish Meldrum, of the BMA's GPs committee, says he does not object to the contracts being offered, he adds:"Existing NHS GPs must have equal right to bid for these contracts.
"We do not want to see this becoming a backdoor privatization of GP services."
Ministers hope that retail chains, including Tesco, Virgin and Boots, will bid to run GP surgeries on behalf of the NHS that would offer more flexible hours to suit people who work during normal surgery .
They would be expected to team up with existing GPs to provide the new surgeries and walk-in centres in supermarkets or shopping centres, which would include minor injuries units.
Residents however express their doubts.
Says Louise McCartney who lives at Great Yarmouth:"But why would it be preferable for GPs or patients? I don't see why a doctor would want to practice in a supermarket in Great Yarmouth if they don't want to practice in a surgery in Great Yarmouth."