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Several hundred GPs exit joint commercial ventures with Virgin Care

Move intended to ward off conflict of interest issues ahead of commissioning roles

Caroline White

Friday, 26 October 2012

Several hundred GPs with shareholdings in Virgin Care have divested their interests, to avoid potential conflict of interest issues ahead of the formal start of the new commissioning arrangements, it has emerged.

Some 343 GP practices were involved in Virgin Care’s joint 50:50 partnership venture, known as GPCos: just 54 practices now remain.

These ventures are typically contracted locally to provide local primary care and community services, such as dermatology, physiotherapy, walk-in centres, and diagnostics, with profits split down the middle.

A spokesman for Virgin Care said the GP exodus, which began 18 months ago, stems from a shift in its business model, which has seen a drop off in the small contracts for these types of services to much larger contracts.

Most of the companies’ services are run directly, with the partnership model accounting for an ever decreasing amount of its services, he said.

“As the business has grown rapidly in the last two years, we now find that far fewer of our patient contacts are seen in services run by our GPCos. With many more new service contracts set to start, this proportion will reduce significantly in the near future,” he said.

Virgin Care had been in talks on the issue with its GP Board members for some time. The first GPs to agree the move to direct provision left their GPCos over 18 months ago, but most of the others have departed over the past 6 to 12 months, he said.

Many of the GPs involved in the ventures would have been likely to find themselves facing conflict of interest issues under the new commissioning arrangements, which start for real next April.

“Even though we have robust policies and procedures in place which are endorsed by the Department of Health, many of our GPs have become increasingly worried about the perception of potential conflicts of interest. Moving away from our partnership model removes this concern,” the spokesman added.

Dr Ian MacDonald, former chair of the Assura [Virgin Care] Coventry GPCo, said that the GPs involved wanted to make a clear distinction between provider and commissioner status.

“As GPs we want to ensure that there is a clear division between provision and commissioning,” he said. “Despite no conflict ever having arisen, we want to avoid any perception that a conflict exists by leaving the partnership prior to GPs taking control of commissioning in April 2013.”

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