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Trailblazing GP commissioners attack pathfinder criteria

By Gareth Iacobucci

Pioneering GP commissioners have accused NHS managers of setting ‘misleading' criteria for selecting consortia for the Government's pathfinder programme, after having their bid turned down in favour of less financially stable groups.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley last week named 52 groups of GP practices from across England as the first wave of 'pathfinder' GP consortia, selected to test the ability of GPs to take over commissioning from PCTs and covering around a quarter of the country's population.

But a consortium already advanced enough to take on real budgets has expressed dismay after NHS bosses rejected its bid on the grounds that other groups are in worse financial positions, and would therefore be more fruitful to learn from.

Dr Joe McGilligan, a GP in Redhill, Surrey, and chair of the ESyDoc consortium of 20 practices, whose achievements include reducing unplanned admissions of patients with COPD by a third, said NHS South Coast's explanation for rejecting their bid ran contrary to his understanding of the term pathfinder.

He said: ‘As a consortium, we are deeply disappointed. The definition of pathfinder is a trail blazer.

'ESyDoc had been seen by many in Surrey and across the country as a GP consortium which was leading the way through the new and unexplored territories of initially practice-based commissioning and latterly GP clinical commissioning.

‘To use the word "pathfinder" when this is just a learning exercise is deeply misleading.'

Dr McGilligan said his group had now been forced to address the false perception that it had done something wrong in not being accepted.

‘As well as to ESyDoc members, this decision has come as a surprise to many others including GP commissioners, colleagues from the local PCTs and acute trusts and by a number of MPs.

‘The perception is, people wondering what's wrong with EsyDoc.'

In a letter to Dr McGilligan explaining the decision, Guy Boersma, regional director of commissioning and development at NHS South East Coast, said that although the group had demonstrated its capabilities, and could be granted pathfinder status next year, the SHA had decided to select six first-wave pathfinders that had specific issues to address in their locality.

He said: ‘I took the view that it would be most useful if the first pathfinders in this region all had serious financial challenges to address, with fair-share funding of consortia coming in.'

Dr Joe McGilligan