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Acute trusts given go-ahead to run more GP practices as ministers launch NHS five year plan

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Government is to make it easier for acute trusts to run GP practices as part of a raft of radical plans for the next five years of the NHS.

The document, NHS 2010 - 2015: from good to great, launched today by health secretary Andy Burnham, spells out the Government's vision for a more preventative, patient-centred NHS, in a bid to overcome the huge challenges caused by the financial crisis.

The Government warned GP practices they will be expected to find at least 1% efficiency savings in 2010/11, and said they will look to impose more efficiency requirements on GPs over the next five years.

The proposal to make it easier for high performing foundation trusts to run GP services could see more schemes developed like that in Sunderland, where GPs became employees of the local acute trust to better support patients with long-term conditions.

The Government pledged to ‘remove barriers that foundation trusts face in expanding their services', and to make it easier for them to be considered to run services in areas where PCTs are tendering for them.

‘Acute trusts could provide GP services if appropriate safeguards can be found,' said Mr Burnham.

But the move could draw criticism from GP leaders, with the NHS Alliance having previously attacked the Sunderland scheme for enabling the foundation trust to refer to itself, and warning it could damage GPs' ability to engage in practice-based commissioning.

Other key measures outlined in the vision include linking 10% of hospital pay to patient satisfaction, and expanding the Government's patient choice agenda by pushing ahead with plans to scrap GP practice boundaries.

The Government also pledged to reduce PCT and SHA management costs by 30% over four years as a further means of making savings. Last month Pulse revealed that PCT management spending has soared by a quarter over the past two years.

Mr Burnham described the NHS in its current state as ‘capable, resilient and strong' - but said it had to go further to become 'great'.

‘We must go further to give patients choice and control over their care. At times, the system can still put its own convenience ahead of patients,' he said. 'We want a more preventative, and more people centered service. If we achieve this, it will become a more productive service.'

He warned that the NHS had ‘an unprecedented challenge on its hands', but said the Government had chosen to launch the vision now in order to give people ‘a long run at what's coming'.

Commenting on the strategy, BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum, said: 'We welcome the government's commitment to maintaining NHS funding in England and to protecting frontline services. However, the scale of the challenge in carrying out many of the plans in this document should not be underestimated. Redeploying budgets and staff, or reconfiguring services, is never straightforward.'

But he responded less favourably to calls for more pay restraint in future years. He said: 'While healthcare workers clearly understand the financial pressures on the NHS, and will want to act responsibly, they should not be punished for a situation which is not of their making.'

Health secretary Andy Burnham NHS 2010-2015 - from good to great

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