Retail giants to run GP clinics?

Bhavika Hira, Operations Manager of B2B International’s medical market research division, considers the future of GP surgeries as we know them.

‘What next?’ is what I would say. We all understand how difficult it is to get an appointment with a GP, especially when you need it at a time which is relatively non-disruptive to your working hours, i.e. 9am to 5pm.

However, imagine if we could just walk into Tesco or ASDA to do a local shop, see a GP and get a prescription on a Saturday or even Sunday. With such stores now selling non-food items like TVs, fridges, clothing, etc., are we looking at a one-stop-shop for everything?

I then read a report which mentioned that GP surgeries ‘could be run by Tesco or Virgin’. GP surgeries in the centre of England’s second largest city will be scrapped and replaced by franchised health centres run by private companies such as Tesco or Virgin under proposals published by its primary care trust. The health trust’s corporate franchising strategy has been presented to the board and already approved by its professional executive committee. The trust aims to have the first ‘super-surgery’ open within the year.

The plans, described as “the most frightening document I’ve ever read” by a senior GP, include abolishing the 76 existing practices in Birmingham and replacing them with 24 branded primary care units, each predicted to see up to 15,000 patients a year.

So, therefore, the question arises as to whether primary care trusts have forgotten the fundamentals of general practice and appear to be more interested in marketing, image and developing brand loyalty, or whether they are copying the franchised expertise of fast food restaurants and high street stores in the hope of making the NHS more effective and efficient.

Obviously marketing, image and brand loyalty are all things we advocate strongly, but when you’re dealing with such sensitive issues as taxpayers’ money and the public’s health and wellbeing, it should come as no surprise that the public will have an opinion as to what should be a priority.

I went to the supermarket with a friend the other day to try to pick up a prescription. The lady at the pharmacy counter was completely out of her depth and it took her at least 30 minutes of shuffling around to deal with us satisfactorily. This made me think about whether we want more specialists who really know their jobs or supermarkets who do a bit of everything?

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