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NHS managers to go head-to-head with private sector to provide GP commissioning support

By Ian Quinn, Gareth Iacobucci

NHS bosses are preparing to pitch themselves into competition with the private sector to offer support to GP commissioning consortia by re-inventing themselves as social enterprises, in moves backed by GP leaders.

The Government's plan to abolish PCTs by 2013 as part of its white paper reforms is expected to lead to GP commissioners employing management directly, or buying in support from outside agencies, with a host of private firms already throwing their hats in the ring.

But GP leaders have backed moves for existing PCTs to morph into social enterprise-style agencies that could potentially support several consortia as an alternative to the private sector.

And a group of NHS commissioning experts parachuted in to oversee one of Lord Darzi's most controversial health policies said it too could reinvent itself as a social enterprise or even a private company to combat a projected loss in funding.

Dr Nigel Watson, chair of the GPC's commissioning and service development subcommittee and chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said he was already in discussions with PCTs expressing his support for the idea, and said he envisaged the new groups offering support to multiple consortia.

‘PCTs could form into social enterprises or other formats to support GP-led commissioning,' he said.

'The advantages are there are a lot of skills within PCTs. I think it would be a disaster for the health service to make all these people redundant, put them into private companies to be sold back to the health service at increased rates. Nor do I think the private sector currently has the people or the skills to support all the potentially 500 consortia.'

He added: ‘I've discussed it with all PCTs in my area and said I think this is the way we need to go.'

Meanwhile, Commissioning Support for London, the 200-plus strong team of managers set up in April last year to drive forward the Healthcare for London proposals to shift huge amounts of hospital care to primary care as part of the polyclinic rollout - said it would re-assess its structure as the axe was likely to fall on £27m of its NHS funding.

‘In the future we know we're not going to be looking at the same funding model', the group's chief executive Sarah Pinto-Duschinsky told Pulse. 'We know that the funding will be significantly lower.'

Ms Pinto-Duschinsky said she was overseeing plans to re-design the body as an organisation which would seek to sell its services, including IT systems, service planning tools and referral management consultancy, to GP commissioning consortia in the capital and further afield.

She said the group, which receives three quarters of its budget from London's PCTs, hoped to be able to compete against what is expected to be massive competition from firms such as UnitedHealth, Dr Foster and Tribal.

‘We believe that GPs are going to be our future customers,' she said.

‘I think it's absolutely possible to compete with the private sector and we think we have some very powerful intellectual property to support GPs. We think being part of the NHS family will be a big advantage.'

Elsewhere, Commissioning Business Service (CBS), which offers similar support to GP consortia in Greater Manchester, said it was also considering evolving into a social enterprise or private company following the white paper.

A CBS spokesman said: ‘As with all NHS organisations the CBS board has considered a variety of organisational forms alongside the changes occurring across the service. These will remain under review.'

Dr Nigel Watson: 'It would be a disaster for the health service to make all these people redundant' Dr Nigel Watson: 'It would be a disaster for the health service to make all these people redundant' What is the real impact of GP commissioning on you, the practice and your patients?

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