Feature Primary Care

Darzi centres: an expensive luxury the UK can no longer afford?

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6287 (Published 08 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6287
  1. Peter Davies, freelance journalist
  1. 1London
  1. petergdavies{at}ntlworld.com

Labour’s “open all hours” health centres were a centrepiece of its health service reforms. Now the first has closed after only a year. Do any stand a chance of surviving elsewhere in England? Peter Davies investigates

Do general practitioner (GP) led health centres have a future? Conceived as part of the then health minister Lord Darzi’s Next Stage Review of the National Health Service, and popularly referred to as “Darzi centres,” the Labour government ordered 150—one for every primary care trust (PCT). They would be open 12 hours a day, every day of the year, offering walk-in services and having their own lists of registered patients. London was to take them a step further with polyclinics offering diagnostic and other services traditionally provided in hospitals.

The Department of Health invested the lion’s share of its £250m (€285m; $403m) “equitable access” fund in GP led health centres, and the first opened in November 2008. All but about a dozen PCTs had commissioned one by the time of the general election,1 and seven polyclinics had opened in London.

Now, however, Darzi centres find themselves stranded in a very different political and economic climate. Incoming health secretary Andrew Lansley was quick to axe London’s polyclinic programme, declaring that “a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach will be replaced with the devolution of responsibility to clinicians and the public.”2

Then NHS Stockport announced the first closure of a GP led health centre. It will not be the last.

An expensive luxury

“In the majority of cases they are likely to disappear,” says Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the BMA’s GP committee. “The vast majority were imposed on PCTs where they were not required. Some will continue where they’ve been put in the right place and are fulfilling a genuine need. But many will be seen as an expensive …

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