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NCAS self-funding plans could compromise mediation standards, LMCs warn

Plans to make the National Clinical Assessment Service (NCAS) self-funding could compromise mediation standards, LMCs have warned.

NCAS, which provides formal assessments of GPs under PCT enquiry, revealed last week it would be moving to a self-funding model within two to three years.

Until now, the body has been under the auspices of the National Patient Safety Agency, but will be hosted by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence until March 2013.

A spokeswoman for NCAS said: ‘We will continue to provide our core services while we are hosted by NICE which will be free at point of request to the NHS.  How and when our new funding structure will be put in practice is not yet clear.'

However, GP leaders warned that management groups will be less inclined to use NCAS's mediation services when it becomes self-funding.

Dr Paul Roblin, chief executive of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs, said NCAS was a ‘very useful service, even though they don't always get it right'.

But he warned:  ‘The prospect of NCAS becoming self-funding would worry me. That probably means a referring organisation would have to pay and that will act as an inhibitor to referring cases to NCAS.'

Dr John Grenville, chair of Derbyshire LMC, said the service should include taxpayer funding. ‘If the public feels it needs protection against poor quality, should the profession be wholly paying for [the service]?'

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMC, said NCAS had ‘good engagement" with the GPs involved in the mediation process.

There was a concern that the nature of NCAS would change under the umbrella of NICE, he added.

‘It all depends on whether it is a freestanding body standing under the NICE umbrella with NICE simply hosting it, or whether NICE will intend to develop it to their own ends," he said.

‘At the moment, they will assess people's performance based on what is accepted practice, not necessarily what is in NICE guidelines.'