HEALTH commissioners have come under fire after deciding to invite ‘profit-making’ companies to bid for the GP out-of-hours contract in East Lancashire.

The service, which provides overnight and weekend GP care, has been run successfully for 20 years by East Lancashire Medical Services (ELMS), a highly regarded group of local doctors and nurses.

Russ McLean, who runs the Patient Voices Group attached to ELMS, said: “We are really worried that a private company will cut in and put profits before patients. ELMS employs local GPs and staff and it’s a non-profit organisation.

“The commissioners were only celebrating our 20th anniversary with us a few weeks ago and now they’ve decided to put the service out to tender. It needs somebody to stand up to them.”

Mr McLean has set up an e-petition calling for the Government to halt the tender process, which he said could lead to ‘drastically reduced levels of care and the loss of local jobs’. Many out-of-hours services in England are now run by large private healthcare companies, but East Lancashire health chiefs met with strong protests when they opted to put the contract out to tender in 2011. They subsequently reconsidered and extended the ELMS deal, which runs until next year.

East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group, which commissions the service, said it is ‘committed to making sure that patients have effective access to GP appointments when they need urgent care, including when that care is outside of normal surgery hours’.

A spokesman said: “As we commission services on behalf of the public, we have a statutory duty to ensure that we receive value for money.

“To do this we need to benchmark services against similar providers, and this often requires us to tender services. This is both normal and good practice.

“The service specification developed will be rigorous, will reflect the views of patients and will ensure that there is no reduction in the quality of service that patients receive.”

See Mr McLean’s petition at