Is private plan the final straw for our NHS?

DOCTORS have described the privatisation of three Camden GP surgeries as the beginning of the end for the NHS

Tan Parsons

DOCTORS have described the privatisation of three Camden GP surgeries as the beginning of the end for the NHS.

America's largest healthcare corporation, the private firm United Health Europe, has taken control of Camden Road Practice, King's Cross Road Practice and the Brunswick Medical Centre.

A GP based in Dartmouth Park, who asked not to be named, said his own surgery has come under threat of privatisation.

He said: "The NHS is totally disappearing. It's complete and utter nonsense. The reasons are totally and utterly financial and it signals the end of the personal relationship between doctors and their patients.

"It's horrifying - it means patients will be given the cheapest medicines simply to save money.

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"The Labour government is not supposed to be in favour of privatising the NHS and yet they have gone way further than the Conservatives ever did. They are getting rid of small practices left, right and centre."

The landmark deal is United Health's first contract in London and it paves the way for other doctors' surgeries to be privatised. Under plans revealed by Health Minister Lord Darzi, more private companies will be given contracts to run NHS surgeries.

Paul Barry, owner of the Village Pharmacy in Belsize Village, said: "There is potential for the patients to come second best in all of this.

"I think it will lead to Camden Primary Care Trust saving money but that has to be gauged against service levels to patients.

"The real cause for concern now is that it becomes about money and not the patients, and that is a very big change in the NHS. It could potentially lead to a more effective use of NHS resources which would be no bad thing. But that has to be done with a proper set of goals that are defined at the start, and I don't think the NHS is very good at doing that at all."

The move has also been condemned by Dr Laurence Buck-man, who is the chairman of the British Medical Association's GP Committee.

He said: "We are very worried that Primary Care Trusts are being put under pressure to opt for private providers. Our concern is that large, corporate firms will put profits and the needs of their shareholders before patients and their quality of care."

But Rob Larkman, chief executive of Camden PCT, defended the decision to appoint the US health giant. He said: "This has been a very rigorous process, and we are satisfied that Camden PCT has secured excellent services for the patients of these three practices."

A spokeswoman added that the US firm has already delivered improvements at other surgeries in the UK.

Camden Road Practice was founded by Dr Abraham Silver-man, who ran the surgery for 60 years and died in 1997 aged 103.

Patient Brian Watkins, 60, said: "I was born the year the NHS was born. I don't think it should be privatised at all. The NHS is an institution which is envied and they have tried to copy all over the world - it should be treasured."

Lydia Spring, 28, taking her six-year-old son Jack to the doctor, said: "I would be devastated if it was privatised. I've been coming here since I was a foetus."

Joan Lake, 74 from Camden Square, said: "I have been coming here since I was married 53 years ago, back when Dr Silverman ran the practice. I'd be worried about the privatisation."