The European arm of private US healthcare giant United Health is poised to take over two GP practices in Derbyshire covering 7,500 patients, one in the village of Crestwell and the other in Derby town.
North Eastern Derbyshire Primary Care Trust has awarded Alternative Provider of Medical Services (APMS) contracts to UnitedHealth Europe.
A PCT statement said: ‘The tender was advertised both locally and nationally and 48 expressions of interest were received. Eighteen of these resulted in actual completed tenders.
‘The tenders were subject to a robust selection and interview process that has resulted in the identification of a “preferred provider”.’
Simon Stevens, the company’s president, is prime minister Blair’s former health adviser.
The PCT has not revealed how much the deal is worth, saying contract details are still being ironed out.
Hospital consultant Mrs Anna Athow told News Line yesterday: ‘This marks a further step in the government’s plan to privatise the NHS at breakneck speed.
‘PCTs are being forced by central government to give primary care contracts to private companies to “diversify provision” and encourage “competition”.
‘The fact that the cost is kept secret is another outrage, at a time when PCTs and NHS hospital trusts are impelled to make £1 billion funding cuts.
‘Health unions must oppose this policy and mobilise against this.’
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee, said: ‘We want to see patients getting good access to primary care, particularly in under doctored areas.
‘Equally, we would want to ensure that the bidding processes are not set up so that only large independent providers can compete.
‘We don’t have enough information to know whether that was the case in Derbyshire.’
A British Medical Association (BMA) spokesman told News Line: ‘We are concerned that there is a level playing field and that private companies can’t use this as a loss-leader to get into the UK health market.’
The government is preparing a massive shake-up of the NHS to make Primary Care Trusts which control 80 per cent of the NHS budget, contract out all community health services, and staff with them.
It intends PCTs will cease to be health providers and become solely health ‘commissioners’.