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Responsible officers rollout gets green light

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Government has pledged to forge ahead with one of the most controversial aspects of revalidation, after the House of Lords passed legislation placing responsible officers in every PCT from January 2011.

The rollout had been thrown into doubt by the Government's decision to abolish PCTs, as existing trust medical directors had been expected to take on the role in most cases.

The announcement this week confirms that the rollout of the officers - charged with policing revalidation - will go ahead, but health minister Lord Howe said the Government would be consulting on where the officers will be located from 2013, after PCTs are abolished.

This raises the possibility that GP consortia could have to employ them themselves at considerable expense, if the Government opts not to place them within the NHS Commissioning Board or local authorities.

The announcement came as the House of Lords passed legislation this week that will see the officers rolled out in every PCT from January 2011, despite fierce opposition from some peers, who warned that there was too much uncertainty over where they will sit to press ahead at this stage.

Conservative peer Lord Colwyn was among a handful of Lords to express concerns about the rollout, and had called for additional time to be set aside to pilot responsible officers.

He said: ‘There is no detail on what structures will support responsible officers, revalidation and other aspects of performance management in primary care after 2013. This makes the decision to press ahead and appoint 975 responsible officers to strengthen systems in structures that are to be abolished difficult to understand.

‘Surely, given the decision to delay revalidation and the uncertainty around the structures that will support performance management, more time is needed to pilot and evaluate the responsible officer system effectively before bringing these measures into force in January.'

But Lord Howe said that now was ‘precisely the time' to press ahead with the rollout in order to create ‘leadership and stability' ahead of revalidation.

He said: ‘Now is precisely the right time to introduce the role of responsible officer. I simply repeat that medical leadership and stability are needed if organisations and their doctors are going to be ready for revalidation when it starts.'

‘Of course the regulations will in due course need to reflect the changes in NHS architecture, should those be agreed by Parliament. We are currently exploring options for this. We will consult on options for responsible officers within primary care as we move to a system of commissioning consortia.'

Dr Helena McKeown, a GP in Salisbury and member of BMA council, said the BMA remained concerned about where the officers will be located. ‘It's the non-committal that is our worry,' she said. ‘The white paper has thrown up more questions than answers.'

The health minister said now was ‘precisely the time' to rollout responsbile officers Lord Howe