Private companies will run one in four of the NHS polyclinics that have been ordered by the Government, figures released yesterday suggest.
Of the 54 contracts announced so far, 14 have been won by private companies or groups led by the independent sector, according to data from Pulse, the newspaper for GPs.
The Government has said every one of the 152 primary care trusts in England must introduce a polyclinic, open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
The clinics, which the Government calls GP-led health centres, are designed to bring together a range of services, such as diagnostic testing, minor surgery, blood tests and X-rays. In addition, extra clinics will be introduced across London.
Pulse contacted 103 trusts after the end of the national tendering process on 31 December. Of those contacted, 48 had not yet awarded a contract for the polyclinic and one refused to provide details.
Local GPs who gathered together into consortiums won 30 per cent of contracts, the independent sector won 26 per cent and a further 7 per cent were awarded to individual practices.
One private company, Assura, has won four joint contracts, collaborating with local GPs in the Coventry, Hartlepool, Bath and North-East Somerset and Stockton-on-Tees trusts.
Primecare, which is part of Nestor Healthcare Group, will run centres in Herefordshire and Cornwall, according to the Pulse data.
The deputy editor of Pulse, Richard Hoey, said if the final proportion of contracts awarded to private companies stood at 25 per cent, it would "significantly expand use of the private sector in the NHS".
The amount that trusts spent on private provision of services could increase by about 15 per cent.
"The country has been so focused on the financial crisis that the Government's controversial polyclinic drive has come in under the radar," he said. "But these results significantly strengthen the role of the private sector in the NHS, and are likely to spark a fresh debate about the extent to which our health service should remain in public hands. There are concerns that some GP-led health centres, and perhaps particularly those run by the private sector, may focus excessively on convenience of access and undermine the long-standing relationship between doctor and patient."
Last week, the Commons Health Select Committee criticised the Government's plan to introduce the clinics in every part of the country. It said that while some areas may benefit from the clinics, there was not enough evidence to say all areas required them.Reuse content