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Controversy as Tyneside patients offered GP calls by private firm

By Sharon Barbour
BBC Look North

Published
image captionDr Richard Scott said patients told the CCG they wanted more choice

A scheme seeing a private healthcare firm paid to give patients free online GP appointments has been criticised.

A Tyneside clinical commissioning group (CCG) struck the deal with Livi, which said it was the first of its kind.

The CCG said it would mean more choice and 21,000 extra appointments a year among its more than 220,000 patients.

A councillor said he had concerns about how the contract was awarded and critics have also said the scheme could undermine the current GP system.

Although Livi has had contracts with individual GP practices in England, it said the partnership with North Tyneside CCG was the first of its kind with the NHS.

The BBC understands the CCG would pay for each consultation during the 12-month term of the contract.

The GPs or nurse practitioners taking the calls could be based anywhere in the UK and would have access to the patient's records.

image captionDr Harriet Bradley says people can have an appointment from their homes

Dr Richard Scott from North Tyneside CCG said: "Our patients told us they wanted more access, they wanted more choice. This service gives additional options to their normal GP service."

Patients can stay registered with their own GP.

Livi's lead GP Dr Harriet Bradley said: "We are very excited because it gives patients the option to access additional healthcare.

"This is that extra bit of face-to-face with a qualified GP or advanced nurse practitioner that can ensure that the patient doesn't need to visit their own GP.

"They can have an appointment from the comfort of their own home, at a time of their choosing."

Livi said its service currently reached more than three million people in the UK and it had ambitious growth plans to work as a partner with the NHS to ensure digital healthcare was accessible to as many people as possible.

image captionCouncillor Joe Kirwin wants an investigation into the circumstances of the awarding of the contract

But the deal has proved controversial.

Councillor Joe Kirwin, the deputy chairman of the health scrutiny committee at North Tyneside Council, has called for a full investigation into the circumstances of the awarding of the contract, saying the committee had not been consulted.

"I've been very surprised about this whole process from the CCG and from Livi, and all the residents I speak to are also surprised," said Mr Kirwin, from the council's ruling Labour group.

"This seems to have come totally out of the blue. I want the CCG to come to the Health Scrutiny Committee, present their report, present their findings, tell us about the process and the contract, and I want to get down to the bottom of how much money this is taking out of the NHS for private profit."

image captionDr Dave Tomson says they agreed to the scheme as they are under a great deal of pressure

And some GPs are worried.

North Tyneside GP Dave Tomson said: "We all agreed to it, because we are under a great deal of pressure, but I think there are concerns about the number of ways in which patients can access services, that that actually makes for inefficiency."

Campaigning group Keep Our NHS Public North East has also called for answers.

A spokesperson said: "Where did the money come from for this additional service and why wasn't it given to the NHS to pay for more GPs?"

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