WITH the coming months crucial to the future of healthcare in the county, GPs have made an extraordinary plea to keep services in NHS hands.

An open letter signed by several county GPs has been sent to the Hereford Times warning of local services being “fragmented” by private sectors.

This week, Wye Valley NHS Trust (WVT) put off the prospect of private sector management to maintain its existing status for at least another two years.

WVT and the Herefordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) also opened talks over the future provision of health services in the county as the CCG prepares its first full clinical strategy.

The CCG will determine those acute services it chooses to designate as having to be provided locally and those it might commission from outside providers.

What the CCG decides will, in turn, profoundly influence WVT’s own service strategy.

Already, it is WVT’s view the CCG will have to incorporate, at an early stage, a determination of the way it wants to commission community health services. The WVT board heard this week that it was “inconceivable” such service should be left out of any determination.

Under last year’s Health and Social Care Act (HSCA) the Government no longer has a duty to provide health services through the NHS.

There is now a legal requirement that NHS services will be put out to tender except in certain limited circumstances, regardless of whether the local commissioners are happy with their NHS provider.

Dr Mark Waters, speaking for the GPs who have signed the letter, said the private sector was already directly involved in frontline care provision in the county with contract for NHS audiology services awarded to Specsavers – in direct competition to the service at the County Hospital.

GP patients, said Dr Waters, were seeing district nursing services much more stretched and counselling services very restricted.

In preparing its strategy, the “excellent” CCG was doing the “best possible job”

in the circumstances dictated by funding cuts and the HSCA, he said.

The letter ends urging patients to raise the issue with their doctors and the county’s MPs ahead of next year’s general election.

• For the doctors’ letter in full, see Readers’ Times.