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Funding blow for RCGP’s Centre for Commissioning

Exclusive The RCGP's flagship Centre for Commissioning has suffered a funding blow with the news that almost £2m of Government backing for the scheme will end next month, Pulse can reveal.

The NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, a Department of Health-funded body which has injected £1.7m into the Centre for Commissioning so far, will end its ‘partnership agreement' with the RCGP in September. The move comes just 11 months after NHS Institute bosses lauded the centre as having a vital role to play in preparing practices for the ‘new world' of GP commissioning.

The RCGP has moved to allay fears that the setback will jeopardise the Centre for Commissioning's future, amid criticism from one GP commissioning leader who questioned whether the £1.7m NHS Institute investment has delivered ‘value for money'. The college insisted it had ‘no expectation' that the NHS Institute would renew funding for the Centre for Commissioning, and said it had ‘a number of other funding sources' in place to support the scheme's work.

These include a contract the RCGP has with the Department of Health to support GP commissioning, which Pulse understands is worth up to £150,000 a year.

Despite the funding blow, the RCGP said it was gearing up to launch its 'second phase of operations' which will involve producing a range of publications, podcasts and learning modules for GP commissioners. The college also insisted that contracts with over 50 GPs employed as ‘clinical commissioning champions' would be renewed beyond September, despite one telling Pulse last week that he had stopped working on behalf of the scheme. 

Dr Brian Fisher, a GP in Lewisham, south-east London, said he ‘could not talk' about the Centre for Commissioning as he was ‘no longer a clinical champion', although the RCGP claimed Dr Fisher ‘remains one of the centre's valued clinical commissioning champions'.

Professor Amanda Howe, honorary secretary of the RCGP, told Pulse the centre would continue to work on an informal basis with the NHS Institute.

‘I can reassure GPs that the college is completely committed to supporting them with good guidance and resources on GP commissioning,' she said. ‘The Centre for Commissioning is in good health - we can't give it up because this is absolutely key to the next few years in England unless the Government radically changes its direction.'

‘The NHS Institute issues grants on an annual basis so we always thought there was a fair chance the funding wouldn't go on beyond this point. When you know that one funding source is likely to end, you have to reconfigure your work or cut your cloth accordingly. But the Centre for Commissioning will stay and we will carry on our work in this area.'

Dr Michael Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance and a GP in Cullompton, Devon, said: ‘I am glad that the college will continue supporting commissioners despite losing this money. Anything that supports commissioners is welcome.'

‘However, it is disappointing that £1.7m of public money invested in commissioning is ending before we have seen concrete outcomes. I'd question whether we have got value for money with this project. We are still at the very early stage of commissioning and, following the Government's revisions to the health bill, clinical commissioning groups are still taking their first steps.'