GP pathfinders are now covering 97% of the country after health secretary Andrew Lansley launched the latest wave of commissioning pilot groups to take forward his NHS reforms.
Announcing the move during his keynote speech at the NHS Confederation annual conference in Manchester yesterday, Mr Lansley said the 35 new pathfinders brought the total up to 257, covering almost 50 million people in England.
He said the move signalled a renewed momentum for his controversial reforms, which were delayed during the ‘pause’ to the Health and Social Care Bill.
Mr Lansley also said he expected delegated budgets and some commissioning responsibilities to be handed to the majority of pathfinders by next April – despite the Government’s decision to relax the deadline for all new bodies to take on full budgetary responsibility.
He told delegates: ‘My main message to you is that, after the pause, it is now time to move forward and get on with improving services for patients. To underline that return of momentum, I am pleased to announce the fifth wave of clinical commissioning group pathfinders.’
‘Some PCTs have already delegated budgets and commissioning responsibilities to pathfinders, and I hope the majority will by next April. By October next year, the NHS Commissioning Board will begin to establish full clinical commissioning groups, delegating budgets to them directly. And by April 2013, commissioning groups will start to take statutory responsibility in their own right.’
He added: ‘I ask you to return to your organisations with one simple message. The pause is over – it’s now time to act.’
Mr Lansley also used the speech to try and repair relations between ministers and NHS managers, after NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar had called on Wednesday for the Government to stop attacking managers and start valuing them, arguing ‘they are essential to the delivery of high quality care’.
The health secretary said: ‘You all know me as a critic of excess bureaucracy, or red-tape, or an over-administering NHS. And I know from long experience that many of you are among the most vocal opponents of excessive bureaucracy.’
‘Without high quality management, we cannot hope to meet the challenges we face. Modernisation is every bit as much about organisational leadership as about clinical leadership.’
But after a speech that drew polite but muted applause, Mr Lansley faced a serious of pointed questions over his treatment of NHS managers, and the exodus of staff driven by redundancies and uncertainty about their future. Pulse revealed earlier this week that some PCTs have already shed a third of their workforce, and an estimated £88m has already been spent on redundancy costs.
Mr Lansley attempted to distance himself from attacks on management by insisting he was not responsible if his comments about the need to reduce administrative costs and bureaucracy were ‘misinterpreted’.