Monday’s must read health stories and debate

Big primary care news

One of the country’s largest GP federations is in discussion with its members about the possibility of forming a “super partnership”.

Suffolk GP Federation, one of the largest “at scale” GP providers in the country, covers a 540,000 population in the east of England.

This could potentially be a very significant development as currently, while there are notable examples of super partnerships, including the likes of Birmingham based Modality Partnership, few cover populations over 100,000.

Suffolk has been looking at ways to develop its primary care provision, with the federation’s chief executive David Pannell telling HSJ that a super partnership was one of the options being considered.

The federation, a group of 59 independent GP practices, is currently registered as a community interest company.

Creating a super partnership with all member practices involved could, in theory, allow the organisation to have a simpler governance structure by allowing it to become a single organisation with a single patient list.

Mr Pannell insisted that the federation’s leadership is “neutral” on the best way to proceed.

He said: “Many of those who formed federations realise there is a limit to the amount of support they can give to practices.

“Suffolk GP Federation is already exploring different options for moving forward, including super partnerships. The practices have to choose what they want; the federation is neutral.”

Other options under consideration include mergers of groups of three to four practices within the federation, and changing structures to a salaried model, along the lines of the London based Hurley Group.

It’s hard to be NICE

Ahead of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s birthday next month, King’s Fund senior fellow and former Financial Times public policy editor Nick Timmins writes on about how the organisation has spent 17 years trying to “balance an essentially unequal equation” involving the interests taxpayers, patients, clinicians and the life sciences industry.

As a present, NICE will restart oversight of the cancer drugs fund, ensuring it “continues to live at the heart of controversy, as it has since its inception”.

Mr Timmins writes: “NICE has lived much of its life in ferment. But it has succeeded both in shielding politicians from the sometimes heart wrenching decisions about what the NHS should and should not provide, and it has put cost effectiveness, as opposed purely to clinical effectiveness, at the heart of the NHS.”

He then gives a number of examples on why NICE’s existence has been a thing of “terrible beauty”.

As he says: “It has at various times been accused of being ‘a death panel’ while at others being cited as one of Britain’s greatest cultural exports.”