The Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, confirmed this week what has been alluded to throughout the Department of Health's white papers over the last year. The country's 152 Primary Care Trusts, along with the corresponding Strategic Health Authorities are to be abolished. Responsibility for budgets and commissioning will be transferred to newly formed Consortia of General Practitioners.
The announcement comes as a response to the consultation following the plans laid out in the recent white paper. The changes will be staged, with PCTs following the example of many in London and the North East by merging into 'clusters', while overseeing the formation of the consortia and supporting them in adapting to their new responsibilities. This transition period is expected to run untill April in 2013.
To test-drive GP's capabilities in taking on the new role, 52 'Pathfinder' Consortia have been announced, covering about a quarter of the country's population. The full handover will not commence until these prove to be a success.
Confirmation of these plans comes in the same week as the Commons Health Select Committee has suggested that the Governments spending plans for the NHS will present a huge challenge. Though spending on health was 'ringfenced' in the recent spending review, the promised rise will be only just above inflation, in real terms and large savings are a requirement. The Committee says that an unprecedented level of efficiency will be needed within the NHS, for it to maintain, let alone improve, health services.
The proposed changes are obviously a part of making this happen, but implementing them in a time of austerity will be all the more difficult. Lansley's plans to stage the reorganisation are welcome in this, but making savings is a big ask of GP's, on top of all their new responsibilities. They'll need all the help they can get from PCT's, as well as the new NHS Commissioning Board and local authorities, if they're to meet the challenge.