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‘Up your game if you want to be a player’

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Councils are being warned to “up their game” to avoid missing out on opportunities to offer commissioning support to GP consortia.

Nine months on from the launch of the government’s NHS reforms, the private sector is making inroads to support fledgling GP consortia but senior figures privately admit little action has yet been taken by local government.

Back in July, sector leaders welcomed the Liberating the NHS white paper as a commissioning opportunity, but private sector players such as McKinsey and PwC are already establishing themselves as support providers.

Some in local government and the NHS argue that the reforms are at an early stage and there are another 12 months in which to formulate arrangements, but others fear the council offer could be left behind.

Local government is talking about this whereas PCT staff, emerging clusters and the private sector aren’t talking about it, they’re doing it

Bob Hudson, professor at Durham University’s school of applied social sciences

John Baker, partner at consultancy Ernst & Young, said he believed councils were not being pro-active enough in forging links with GPs.

“They should be talking to their formulating primary care groups and arranging large-scale meetings with groups of GPs about how future arrangements could work,” he said.

“One thing that the legislation has done is create a market and if local government doesn’t do this, someone else will,” he added.

Mr Baker said that there were other areas - such as the creation of joint provider arms for local services - that councils and the primary care sector were failing to address.

David Stout, director of the NHS Confederation’s Primary Care Trust Network, thought opportunities would arise over the next 12 months for interested councils to explore the potential for providing commissioning support to GP consortia, but that they were “still finding their feet”.

He said areas with a strong track record of joint commissioning would be particularly ripe for continued collaboration. However, he cautioned that teething problems with shadow health and wellbeing boards could dampen consortia interest in increasing their involvement with councils.

Dr Johnny Marshall, chair of the National Association of Primary Care, believes local government pitches will be given consideration.

“There’s definitely an opportunity for looking for extra commissioning support. And there’s definitely an opportunity for looking at different people who can offer that support,” he said.

But Bob Hudson, professor at Durham University’s school of applied social sciences, argues time is running out for councils to develop their offer.

“My view is that local government is talking about this whereas PCT staff, emerging clusters and the private sector aren’t talking about it, they’re doing it,” he said.

“Local government is late to the table and if it wants to be a player it needs to up its game,” he added.

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