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Dozens of GP consortia refused pathfinder status

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: NHS chiefs have rejected bids from dozens of GP consortia to become ‘pathfinders' for commissioning, despite ministers' promises that there would be ‘no complex approvals process', Pulse can reveal.

The Department of Health recently named 52 groups of GP practices as the first wave of pathfinder consortia, selected to test the ability of GPs to take over commissioning from PCTs.

But although the Government had suggested that most consortia submitting competent bids for pathfinder status would be successful, consortia across the country have been forced to resubmit their applications after being rejected in the first wave.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley had told pioneering GPs that the bar for pathfinder status would be set deliberately low, telling them: ‘Simply show that you have local GP backing, strong clinical leadership, engagement with your local authority and are fully signed up to the Quality and Productivity agenda locally.'

But SHAs told Pulse this week many bids had failed to meet the required criteria, with others rejected because of the sheer number of applications.

It comes after GPs in Surrey recently accused NHS managers of setting ‘misleading' criteria for selecting consortia for the programme, after having their consortium's bid turned down in favour of less financially stable groups.

NHS London told Pulse it had received 16 applications for the first round of pathfinders, but said only eight had fulfilled its criteria. A spokesman said: ‘The remaining applicants are receiving support to enable them to meet the criteria to become a pathfinder set out on NHS London's website.'

Elsewhere, NHS East of England received 25 pathfinder applications from commissioning groups, but had to reject 18 when selecting the first wave.

NHS South East Coast received 19 applications, but rejected 14 for the first wave because of the high number of bids. A spokeswoman said: ‘The numbers for the first wave were limited and most of those who have already applied but weren't able to secure a place in the first wave are reapplying for the second wave.'

NHS North East said it had five applications for initial pathfinder status, with three going through in the first wave, and the other two hoping to be successful in the second wave.

But NHS East Midlands told Pulse it had not rejected any applications to its pathfinder programme.

Dr Anoop Dhesi, chair of the North Norfolk Health Consortium, and a GP in Stalham, Norfolk, said his group was now giving ‘more thought' to their application after being rejected.

He said: ‘It would have been helpful to have had more detailed criteria in what they were looking for in applicants and more guidance on what level of development they expected already within groups.'

But he added: ‘It's fair enough for them to leave it fairly open and I suppose the response is a reflection on how organised [other consortia] are.'

Andrew Lansley