Primary care trusts could change their names over the next year to boost the public’s understanding of their role.

PCTs have been questioning whether their names reflect the work they do. This has prompted Department of Health director general of commissioning and system management Mark Britnell to write to stakeholders seeking their views.

In the letter he proposes they could publicly drop the PCT from their title and add NHS at the beginning instead, like strategic health authorities. For example, Oldham PCT would become known as NHS Oldham.

“PCTs and others have questioned whether their name adequately reflects their existing duties and roles, especially in relation to funding NHS care for their resident population,” he says.

The change would help convey PCTs’ financial clout locally and improve understanding of the organisations’ role and responsibilities within the health service, he suggests.

“For members of the public and patients, NHS XXX potentially gives stronger recognition of local NHS commissioners and is less confusing than their current title, which is not well understood,” the letter says.

The change would “allow PCTs to position themselves as frontline commissioners of patient care rather than back-room organisations that have little visibility”, Mr Britnell adds.

The move would not require legislation as PCTs could continue to use their PCT title “discreetly” on stationery and other documents. The DH would not expect a major rebranding exercise that would “add unnecessary expenditure”, as changes would be made as signs and stationery were replaced.

Some PCTs have already begun using the NHS brand, meaning national guidance is likely to be issued on the matter later this year.

David Stout, director of the NHS Confederation’s PCT Network, said the concept was likely to be supported by PCTs and “fits with the idea of PCTs as local NHS leaders”.

“There is an issue that the name doesn’t really do what it says on the tin. ‘PCT’ doesn’t say what a PCT does and it’s a way of rebranding without going through formal statutory change.”

However, he said it was not a solution in itself and PCTs would need to explore a range of measures to improve accountability and relationships with local people. “If it’s the thing to do then it would be helpful to be consistent about it. If just a third of PCTs do it might just confuse things,” he added.

Birmingham East and North PCT chief executive Sophia Christie said the idea “makes a lot of sense”.

For more analysis, see this week’s leader.