Health :: Minister encourages NHS to embrace new providers

Health Minister Lord Warner today urged the NHS to open up family doctor services to new providers in a drive to tackle inequalities, improve access to GPs and offer patients a greater choice of practice.

Speaking to an audience of senior Primary Care Trust (PCT) executives at the National Association of Primary Care conference, the Minister said that PCTs in all areas, not just those in traditionally underserved areas, should invite entrepreneurial GPs wanting to open new practices under ‘franchise’, as well as commercial and third sector providers to provide additional services for patients under the NHS banner.

The Minister also pledged to give NHS patients a real choice of practice by building up GP capacity. The comments follow the commitment made in the white paper, ‘Our Health, Our care, Our say’, to allow new providers to offer services to registered patients alongside traditional general practice.

Health Minister Lord Warner said:

“It is crucial that where existing practices are failing to meet the needs of their population, PCTs should look to commission new services from different providers, whether these are existing high- quality practices or new providers. We need to introduce more contestability into primary care as we have done in secondary care. This, together with increased patient choice, will serve to drive up quality in existing services.

“I am in no doubt that when we seek improvement in GP services we can achieve this by harnessing provision from within the NHS, from existing contractors, or bringing in new providers. We are less concerned about which contracting routes are used to secure high quality GP services, but want to be clear that the PCTs must move service delivery forward. The NHS should not accept what has gone before – as satisfactory as that may be – but must seek out continuing enhancement in the services patients receive and how they access these services.”

The Department of Health is working with Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) and the 30 PCTs identified in the White Paper to help them develop their plans to increase primary medical care capacity locally. The department has also invited SHAs to identify further volunteers from among those PCTs which are “under-doctored” or Spearheads and who may wish to join the nationally supported procurement.

The department has already helped the NHS set up two contracts with independent providers, in Barking and Dagenham and City and Hackney, and services are now up and running.

Commenting on patients’ freedom to choose a practice, Lord Warner said:

“We need to make it easier for patients to change practices. The decision to choose a practice is almost more important than choice of hospital, particularly for those patients with long-term conditions.

“Existing practices who are providing high-quality, responsive and accessible services, and who are willing to invest to grow their businesses, have nothing to fear from these changes. This increased choice, facilitated by the use of local contracting flexibilities, will bring a different mix to primary care to enhance and strengthen provision.”

The NHS has had the option to contract with independent providers, including the voluntary sector since April 2004 under the Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contract. Many PCTs have used this contract to provide out of hours services and a handful have used the route to provide GP services.

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