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Lansley sets up pathfinder programme to test commissioning model and tells GPs: ‘Now is your chance’

By Gareth Iacobucci, Susan McNulty

The Government is to grant pathfinder status to a raft of GP consortia across the country, as ministers launch a major programme to test the white paper's far-reaching commissioning plans.

In his keynote speech to the NAPC conference today, health secretary Andrew Lansley said the Government would establish a new framework to enable trailblazing GPs to take on budgets well in advance of previous deadlines.

The Government said the new pathfinder programme will ‘identify and support groups of practices who are keen to make faster progress' and officials claimed the move was about speeding up the programme rather than bowing to widespread calls for the scheme to be piloted.

However Mr Lansley said the pathfinders would form part of a policy research programme, admitting some practices still had ‘lots of questions and concerns' over the reforms. He said he hoped the new announcement would provide more evidence to encourage other GPs to come forward.

Practices who have formed consortia have been told to put themselves forward to their PCT and SHA from the end of this month month, with the health secretary revealing the DH would make available £1m in funding to ‘kickstart' the programme.

He said the money would ‘enable GPs to test different design concepts of GP consortia and identify any issues and areas of learning early on so that these can be shared across the GP community.'

Mr Lansley again defended the timescale of his reforms, which will see GPs take over from PCTs by April 2013.

‘Two and a half years is adequate - the idea of any longer is unsustainable,' he said, adding that GPs already in a consortium would be fast-tracked through the new process.

‘What I intend is more details which will set out how pathfinders can nominate themselves. I don't want it to be a long application process. If you're a consortium already then the presumption is the answer will be "yes".'

Mr Lansley said a pathfinder application would only be turned down if the consortium was not engaged with local GPs or if the consortium was not engaged adequately with the local authority or sufficiently focused on outcomes.

The responsibilities consortia will be expected to take on from PCTs will be made clear by the end of the year, he said, adding: ‘GPs have said to me before "why don't they listen to us? We can do it better." Well now is your chance.'

Pulse revealed last week how GP consortia had been identified as being ahead of schedule to launch in more than half of trusts, despite widespread fears over the pace of the reforms.

Of 32 PCTs providing details to Pulse of their schedule for handing over commissioning responsibilities, 18 said they were on course to have shadow GP consortia up and running before the target date of April next year.

The King's Fund was among leading bodies questioning the timescale in its response to the white paper and the NHS Alliance called for a dual-track introduction of GP commissioning that would allow trailblazing GPs to take on budgets as soon as possible, but give less accomplished commissioners more time to prepare for the transition.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley Health secretary Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley, Secretary of state for health: Keynote address at NAPC

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