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Pathfinders can show us the way to effective GP commissioning

Dr Paul Zollinger-Read explains what his PCT will be looking for in applications to be a pathfinder consortia, in the latest Notes from the Dark Side

Very interesting news this week about GP consortia being able to become 'pathfinders'. So what's it all about? Well, in short they are defining the path - it's as simple as that!

This is an excellent move as it's saying 'let's test out what works and learn from that'. It has the joint aims of helping those who want to move forward progress as quickly as they want to and also ensuring we learn from them - both in terms of what works and what doesn't.

One of the criticisms often made of the NHS is that we don't learn. This knocks that firmly on the head. The focus here needs to be local; helping local teams rise to the challenge, be it in embedding patient engagement or strengthening joint commissioning whatever area they are developing. It allows those teams to then discuss their experiences with their colleagues in other consortia. Finally, we can use this rich learning to feed in to the national picture... truly bottom-up.

So, how will it work? The authorisation process will be de minimus and in our area we will be looking for consortia to fulfil criteria such as:

• Clarity on the purpose of the pathfinder – i.e. to work on governance, Patient and Public Engagement, etc

• Evidence of shared commitment across several practices and a clear sense of how they will work together

• Engagement with the local authority and commitment to engage patients and the public

• Commitment of consortium to support the local QIPP agenda

Pathfinders will be offered leadership development as well as technical support. Also, as the purpose of being a pathfinder is to share their learning widely across the health system, they will be part of a national network of other pathfinders to ensure there is peer learning and debate which can be shared with the wider GP community. Pathfinders will be given national profile and will have opportunities to feed into the development of national policy.

This invaluable experience will help shape the way GP consortia will work in the future. By making early progress we will also give the wider commissioning community the confidence to join in and enable pathfinder consortia to start taking on aspects of the new roles in commissioning local services.

Dr Paul Zollinger-Read is a GP and chief executive of NHS Cambridgeshire

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