Council sets up inquiry into closure of London surgery with 4700 patients

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 04 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3238
  1. Tom Foot
  1. 1London

An inquiry into the sudden closure of a general practice in north London earlier this year that left thousands of patients temporarily without a GP is opening at Camden Town Hall, north London, on 10 May.

The Camden Road Practice, in Camden Town, had 4700 patients when its closure was announced in February. About 2700 have since registered with other practices, but the remaining 2000 are being allocated by the local health authority, NHS North Central London, to other practices, in some cases a considerable distance from their home.

The inquiry is to be chaired by the Camden Labour councillor Angela Mason, and a report will be filed to Camden borough council’s health scrutiny committee in June.

The Camden Road Practice was run as a GP partnership until 2008, when the Camden Primary Care Trust decided to put it out to tender, along with two other practices: the Brunswick and King’s Cross surgeries.1 The contract was awarded to the giant US private healthcare company UnitedHealth, which put in a lower bid than local GPs.

The primary care trust said that in awarding the practices to UnitedHealth their future would be safeguarded and patients would benefit from later opening hours.

But the decision provoked a strong backlash. The Camden Keep Our NHS Public campaign group organised a series of public meetings, marches, and demonstrations outside the Department of Health and the primary care trust headquarters in St Pancras.

A patient, Barbara Saunders, filed an application for judicial review that was later rejected.

In April 2011 UnitedHealth transferred ownership of its GP service delivery businesses, including Camden Road, to Practice U Surgeries Ltd. UnitedHealth explained the move as a “straightforward management transfer,” saying that it wanted to focus on commissioning rather than the delivery of primary care.

Patients were informed only in February this year that the surgery would close on 13 April. Even then the health authority decided to write to only a fifth of patients, the legal minimum.

Patients who were not able to find a place in nearby practices have been “allocated” to practices several kilometres away in adjacent areas such as Holloway, King’s Cross, and Highgate.

The inquiry set up by Camden Council’s health scrutiny committee was announced a week before the surgery closed.

Patients have been complaining to the local press about the increase in the length of their journey, and elderly and disabled patients have protested that they will be forced to use taxis to get to their new GP surgeries.

Camden Road Practice’s long serving partner, Robert Harbord, who has owned the freehold since 1989, wants to make the building into his family home. In 2008 he extended the lease to Camden Primary Care Trust on the proviso that in five years it would no longer be run as a surgery. In 2008 both parties agreed that the building was “not fit for purpose.”

NHS North Central London rejected an offer from a consortium of 27 practices, called Haverstock Healthcare, to run a temporary practice if the NHS would find premises. North Central London repeatedly said that this was unnecessary.

On 25 April an official from North Central London sent an email to about 12 people who had been invited to attend the inquiry, including its chief executive and medical director and some local GPs, expressing concerns that the inquiry could “set a precedent” for the future and requested parties to pause for thought before responding to the invitation.

Announcing the closure in February a trust spokeswoman said, “We are very sorry that we have been unable to renew the lease with the landlords at Camden Road Practice, despite a great deal of effort.

“However, we know that we have the capacity at other GP practices in the borough, and we are asking patients how they want to register with those practices. We want to do everything we can to make sure that their transfer to a new GP is as easy as possible. We are committed to offering the best possible access to primary care services to our patients.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3238


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