GPs' cash goes on a wok shop

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

An eight-partner GP fundholding practice has used part of its £30,000 savings to open a health shop selling woks and bedding.

Alan Langlands, NHS chief executive, was challenged yesterday over the spending of the treatment savings to open the shop, which also sells physiotherapy aids, has a library of videos and tapes on healthy living for hire, and a database on treatments and healthy life styles. It may expand into over-the-counter drugs and other pharmacy items.

At a hearing of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, Alan Milburn, Labour MP for Darlington, asked Mr Langlands whether "selling woks for Christmas presents is really a good use of public money" when people were "crying out for health care".

The Real Health Shop, run by Audley Mills Surgery in Rayleigh, Essex, was defended, however, by James Couchman, Tory MP for Gillingham, who said health policy was increasingly emphasising the value of healthy eating. "For too long we have talked of the health service as a sickness service rather than one for health."

Mr Langlands offered to get more details for the committee but told Mr Couchman: "If you look at the morbidity and mortality rates in China, and if you compare their diet and our diet, I would agree with your assertion."

Steve Doherty, the surgery practice manager, said the shop was a small part of a £30,000 development in which the practice had incorporated physiotherapy and counselling rooms behind a shop front that had to be maintained. He and the partners had put up £300 each to fund stock, the commercial side being run as a separate business.

Its main aim, he said, was to provide free health advice, data on illnesses and a Milk Marketing Board diet guide. "We wanted to make it more than just somewhere where people get free advice because if people buy something they tend to value it more."

Mr Milburn argued it showed GP fundholding savings were being misused. "When 1 million people are waiting for treatment, this is an absurd sense of priorities," he said.

Michael Shersby, a Conservative PAC member, accused Mr Milburn of turning the committee into "a party political cockpit". Mr Couchman praised the practice's "lateral thinking".

The non-fundholding Association of GP Commissioning Groups attacked the move as "the unacceptable face" of GP fundholding.

The partners had not decided what to do with any profit.