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Government unveils third wave of commissioning pathfinders

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Government has unveiled the latest wave of GP commissioning pathfinders – which will now cover two-thirds of England.

The latest batch brings the total number of pathfinders up to 177 groups covering 35 million people.

The Department of Health has also revealed that a small number of pathfinders from the second wave had since merged after re-assessing their initial structure.

The Government has been keen to paint the wide rollout of pathfinders as evidence that GPs are fully on board with its commissioning reforms, with health secretary Andrew Lansley hailing the latest response from GPs as ‘truly encouraging'.

But a recent Pulse poll showed that 60% of GPs whose practices were part of the first wave of pathfinders were actually opposed to the profession taking on commissioning, adding credence to GP leaders claims that much of GPs' sign-up has been done on a purely pragmatic basis as PCTs ‘implode' around them.

The average consortium in the third wave contains 27 practices and covers 186,000 patients. This is similar to the second wave, which contained 25 practices and covered 175,000 patients on average, but smaller than the average of 36 practices covering 248,000 patients in the first wave.

News of the latest rollout will also add to concerns that the Government is pushing ahead with its NHS reforms without true piloting - and driving the changes forward before the legislation has been passed by Parliament.

But Mr Lansley said patients were already benefiting from local commissioning decisions being made since the launch of the scheme.

The health secretary said: ‘This is a truly bottom-up response, as demonstrated by the varying shape and size of the GP pathfinder groups. The speed of uptake is also highly encouraging. It demonstrates significant will on the part of GPs and nurses to get on with designing and purchasing NHS services, so that outcomes can improve for patients."

‘Where emerging consortia have been formed, patients are already benefiting from local commissioning and healthcare services tailored to their needs.'

The DH also revealed details of mergers between pathfinders. In the South West, it said Cheltenham, Cleeve and Winchcombe PBC Consortium had now become part of the wider Gloucestershire GP Consortia. In Sheffield, four groups, the Central Consortium, Hallam and South Consortium, North Sheffield Consortium for Health, and West Consortium had merged to become one combined pathfinder.

A DH spokesperson said: ‘These changes in pathfinder configuration may continue as the programme develops. This reflects developing thinking by GPs and others.'

The DH say patients have already benefitted from GP commissioning Pathfinders third cohort

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