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GPs to take control of £5bn education budget

By Gareth Iacobucci

The BMA has raised serious concerns over Government plans to give GPs more control of a £5bn education and training budget currently administered by deaneries.

The Government wants to shift responsibility for education and workforce planning away from SHA deaneries to new local ‘skills networks', where GPs will sit alongside local authorities, social care and public health providers, and education providers.

The new networks will hold and allocate funding for education and funding locally, taking on functions currently provided at regional deaneries.

In a move that the BMA says will threaten standards in training, the Department of Health launched a consultation on the plans, saying the current system was ‘too top-down', with service development planning ‘often poorly integrated with financial and workforce planning'.

It added that the current system of medical workforce planning and education being managed by SHA-based postgraduate deaneries left it ‘too isolated from the planning and commissioning of education for other healthcare professionals'.

Under the plans, GPs and other healthcare providers would need to create legal entities to carry out functions currently done by SHAs, including managing and coordinating workforce data, holding and allocating funding for the provision of education and training, and contracting for the provision of education and training with education providers and healthcare providers.

The DH said it would not legislate to create local statutory bodies, and would instead leave providers to determine how they group together to carry out their responsibilities, which will also include consulting with GP consortia to ensure that workforce plans reflect their commissioning intentions.

A new national body - Health Education England - will also be set up as a statutory board to provide national oversight and support to Public Health England and healthcare providers on workforce planning and the commissioning of education and training.

The DH said the move would also save money, and reduce the high costs of running the current system, which ‘vary greatly among SHAs'.

Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley said: ‘We want to empower healthcare providers to plan and develop their own workforce. They know what services their patients and local communities require – and they know what staff they need to deliver excellent, responsive healthcare.'

But Dr Tom Dolphin, co-chair of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee, said the proposals risked creating a postcode lottery in training standards.

He said: 'Ensuring that the UK has enough well-trained staff to provide high quality healthcare in difficult economic times will be a major challenge for the NHS, yet the proposals to move away from a co-ordinated UK-wide approach - to a more local system of organising training and education - could threaten national standards and erode the quality of training.

'The pace of change suggested in the consultation is also troubling; with the plan to have new systems and processes in place by 2012, it is difficult to see how there will be enough time to pilot and evaluate changes to the provision of training and education.'

The consultation closes at the end of March 2011.

Andrew Lansley

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