Commissioning support services being developed by primary care trust clusters are likely to undergo a national “business review”.
The programme is being planned by the Department of Health commissioning development team and is due to begin after June, once clusters are fully in place.
The move is a response to concerns that staff might try to “recreate PCTs” by attempting to establish relatively small organisations offering a broad set of services that might not be effective or viable.
A source involved in the process said: “It will be a stock take of where things [staff and support plans] are in PCT clusters, and they will be engaged to try to make the offer more thoughtful, and more businesslike.”
The review is likely to be a forerunner for the authorisation process for planned DH support units which the government hopes will serve commissioning consortia after April 2013. The source said the process would “make sure they [commissioning support organisations] are as good as possible” before further development and authorisation.
Staff are developing plans for consortium support at West Cheshire PCT, NHS Birmingham East and North, and Greater Manchester Commissioning Support Service.
But some GPs have questioned whether existing NHS organisations should be supporting the development of the services, arguing that GPs themselves or independent companies should be given an equal chance of competing.
One senior GP commissioning figure said: “If PCT staff want to do it they should do it divorced from the PCT – do it on your own time with your own money.
“What part of ‘abolished’ don’t they understand?”
Birmingham East and North chief operating officer Andrew Donald said the group of its staff looking to develop “digital and marketing services” had secured external funding for their work, which was carried out at no cost to the PCT.
The development of support services was an appropriate function of PCT clusters, Mr Donald said.
He added: “If they have done research and are working with GPs on what they want it will not become a drain [on resources].”
It is at present unclear whether units formed from NHS staff will generally become social enterprises, as has been widely expected since the government announced the abolition of PCTs, or remain as NHS bodies.
This could have a significant effect on staff pensions and other entitlements.
Staff in some parts of the country have been told new organisations are likely to remain part of the NHS. However, senior sources involved in commissioning development said this had not been decided.
DH guidance on the creation of PCT clusters said their functions included “supporting development of commissioning support”, and “working with [NHS Commissioning Board] to put in place new organisational options for commissioning support”.