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7 February 2008
Atos Healthcare, the company which carries out incapacity and DLA medicals for the DWP, has taken over the running of its first GP surgery.

GPs wishing to support a patient's benefits appeal will in future have to be prepared to go against the findings of their own employer's doctors.

St Paul's Way medical centre in Tower Hamlets was being managed by the local Primary Care trust after the GP partners who ran it retired last October. Normally in these circumstances another local surgery would be appointed to run the practice. In this case, however, two other local practices did put in bids, but they were rejected in favour of the multinational company.

Doctors and patient lobbied the council last week, protesting at what they regard as the privatisation of health services. Multinational Atos Healthcare already run the Canary Wharf NHS Walk-in Centre and there are fears that as the management contracts for other practices and for proposed polyclinics are put out to tender Atos will develop an increasing stranglehold on the national health service.

For the 10,500 patients of St Paul's Way medical centre there is now the worry that GPs will be reluctant to help them challenge a refusal by the DWP to find them incapable of work. In such circumstances patients would be asking their GP to put in writing their belief that another doctor working for the same employer had written an unreliable report. Some GPs may be reluctant to do so. Indeed as government pressure on doctors to write fewer sick notes grows, patients may fear that Atos Healthcare GPs will feel under the greatest pressure to submit to ministers' demands.

© 2008 Steve Donnison