This site is intended for health professionals only

GP pathfinders linking up with private firms

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: GPs in the first wave of commissioning pathfinders are turning to the private sector for support in areas including referral management, financial support and back-office functions, a Pulse investigation reveals.

A detailed analysis of 10 of the first 52 pathfinders has found six have either signed deals or are in talks with private companies. The findings suggest GP commissioning pioneers are ignoring GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman's advice, expressed in the BMJ earlier this month, to shun the private sector and employ former PCT managers instead.

Wyvern Health in the South West and the Great West Commissioning Consortium in Hounslow have enlisted UnitedHealth to assist in managing high-risk patients and referral management respectively.

Paul Bearman, general manager of Wyvern Health, said it was working with the private sector to ensure ‘good robust project management': ‘We've appointed a management consultant as a short-term programme director to lead the transition and work up our governa- nce arrangements. We also used UnitedHealth's risk tool for managing high-risk patients.'

Newcastle Bridges GP Commissioning Consortia said they had signed a deal with Connect Physical Health to redesign intermediate triage and treatment services and reduce referrals to orthopaedics.

West Cheshire Consortium and a group in Buckinghamshire said they had begun talks with unnamed firms on referral management, accounting and HR support.

Dr Stewart Findlay, a member of County Durham and Darlington Federation, said it might enlist the private sector ‘if our PCT is unable to resource us through the transition'.

All 10 pathfinders are looking at how referrals could be managed to achieve efficiency savings, as one of a number of measures under the Government's QIPP programme.

The investigation also revealed the majority of new consortia were created from previous practice-based commission- ing groups, although most are modifying their arrangements to try and expand their reach to the wider GP community.

Most had either held elections for board positions or planned to in the next few months, but some were waiting for further details of the Government's plans.

Dr Neil Kerfoot, a GP in Bristol and chair of South Gloucestershire Consortium, said it had not had formal elections because it was waiting on the health bill: ‘We might want a representative from all practices and from those develop a new executive. Whether we have interviews or elections it's difficult to know.'

How pathfinder consortia are shaping up

Many consortia have evolved from existing PBC groups. Some are individual consortia, others are federations. Most plan to hold elections, but few have held them yet.

Some groups have signed deals for commissioning support with private firms such as UnitedHealth. Others are in talks, while some are relying more on existing support from PCTs.

QIPP is central to every consortia's plans, with all involved in referral management, and many looking at inappropriate emergency admissions, and reducing variability in practice performance.

Dr Neil Kerfoot