25% of polyclinics 'list under 500 patients'

By Jane Kirby, Press Association Health Correspondent

One in four polyclinics ordered by the previous Government have registered fewer than 500 patients, research suggests.

Freedom of Information data from 95 primary care trusts (PCTs) in England reveals 35% have registered fewer than 1,000 patients each, with 26% registering fewer than 500.

Patients do not have to register with polyclinics - they can use them as walk-in centres while still being on the list of their usual practice.

Polyclinics were the brainchild of former health minister Lord Ara Darzi and were designed to offer GP services and some hospital services, such as diagnostic tests, together with extended opening hours.

Each PCT was told to set one up, although it is unclear if they all did.

Lord Darzi said up to 150 would be established in London alone.

Today's investigation, by GP newspaper, includes detail from 95 of 152 PCTs.

It found 12% had no registered patients, although some said they did not offer this option.

Six do not open for extended hours and three PCTs said they had closed their centres down.

One centre, on the Isle of Wight, has registered just one patient.

Dr Laurence Buckman, from the British Medical Association (BMA), said: 'The vast majority of Darzi centres are a millstone around the neck of the NHS.

"We all believe they are a complete waste of money. I won't be sorry to see them go."

The BMA's GP committee negotiator, Dr Peter Holden, said it was outrageous that so few patients were registered.

"They should be closed down and their lists re-distributed.

"You cannot justify investment for that. This has been a massive waste of money.

"The whole thing has been an expensive charade that has wasted taxpayers' money. It has just been about political spin."

Health minister Simon Burns said: "Labour's top-down imposition of polyclinics has left parts of the country with ghost clinics.

"In some places they work but in others they are under-used, unwanted and a drain on resources. Our plans ensure that the NHS responds to patients, rather than politicians."

A spokesman for NHS Isle of Wight said it was no surprise that the Beacon Health Centre had only one registered patient.

"We are not surprised or ashamed that the GP-led Beacon Health Centre has only one registered patient. Although patients can register with the service we have not actively promoted that," he said.

"The Beacon Health Centre takes the worry away for patients who cannot decide whether to visit their GP or the A&E department."

The centre is next to St Mary's Hospital so patients can be referred to casualty if their condition warrants that level of attention.

"The centre has a substantial level of walk-in business and provides out of hours GP services not only for islanders but also for the island's prisons population and our highly valued hospice."