One of the first independently run NHS GP surgeries, Tollgate Lodge Primary Care Centre in East London was officially opened today (Thursday 29 March 2007) by Health Minister Andy Burnham. Others present included Councillor Faizullah Khan and representatives from City and Hackney Primary Care Trust (PCT) and Mercury Health.
The new centre – a partnership between City and Hackney PCT and independent company Mercury Health – was established to address this shortage and to expand the range of primary care services available to local residents.
Within three weeks of opening at the beginning of August, the centre had more than 300 patients on its books. Most had previously struggled to register with a GP in the area, which has historically suffered from a shortage of GPs.
Andy Burnham said: "GPs are providing a good service, but there are still areas like Hackney where there are fewer GPs than elsewhere. The opening of Tollgate Lodge is great news for local people, as it will mean that hundreds of NHS patients will find it easier to get a doctor's appointment.
"Patients living in other deprived areas should also soon find it easier to see a GP following our recent launch of a new drive to provide extra GPs and nurses for those towns with the fewest family doctors. Local NHS patients will also see extended GP opening hours, including evening and Saturday morning surgeries, thanks to the new government-brokered deals."
The 4,000-capacity centre is one of the first to emerge from the Department of Health's programme designed to encourage new approaches to commissioning services. Caroline Gilmartin, Deputy Director of Primary Care at the PCT, explains why City and Hackney got involved. "There was a clear need for another practice in the area, but none of the existing practices had the capacity or the desire to expand.
"Rather than follow the traditional routes, we were keen to explore the possibilities that the new approaches gave us in terms of added value and flexibility," she explains. "It's not just about contracting with practices as we've done in the past, but about actively commissioning services, which is a very different way of working. Under the new arrangements, we can be very clear with practices about what we'll pay for, what level of service we require, and what capacity we need."
Following an exacting procurement process, Mercury Health was appointed to run the new centre, mainly on the basis of its clinical expertise. Caroline explains: "They had to be able to convince us that they understood what we wanted, and are able to provide a model at least as good as the other GP services in the area."
The result is a five-year contract to provide services above and beyond those of a traditional GP practice. Dr Mark Hunt, Mercury Health's Director of Primary Care and a practising GP, said: "We're providing a high quality service for the local community and at the same time we're exploring new ways of doing things."
For example, due to concerns about the rise of TB in the area, there are plans to introduce a TB clinic led by one of the centre's GPs, Dr Arif Mahmood, who has postgraduate training in chest medicine. This clinic would also be open to patients from neighbouring practices.