The government is to take control of the majority of procurements for GP services in 30 under-doctored areas in England, HSJ has learned.

The government is to take control of the majority of procurements for GP services in 30 under-doctored areas in England, HSJ has learned.

The move to centralise procurement of new general medical services in under-doctored areas is partly a bid to win the interest of larger private sector providers, who were concerned that locally run processes were too bureaucratic, HSJ understands. The Department of Health is also thought to have been keen to speed up the process.

The government made a commitment to 'increase provision in long underserved deprived areas' in its January white paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say.

The central procurement is expected to offer contracts with a total value of about£150m-200m, covering services with a headcount of about 800 GPs.

The invitation to tender is expected in September, and the majority of the 30 PCTs identified in the white paper are expected to join in what is now being termed a first wave, suggesting there could be an expansion of central primary care procurement if this tranche is successful.

Taking part in the procurement is not compulsory, but the 30 PCTs will have to demonstrate they have robust plans to address poor access to justify not taking part, HSJ understands.

The decision to take more central control follows private sector criticism of a pilot procurement of GP services in six PCTs, launched last July.

During the pilot, PCTs managed their procurements individually, with back-up funding and expertise from the DoH. But the process was criticised by bidders for being disproportionately bureaucratic for the size of each individual contract.

Now providers that pass quality tests during the central procurement process will be put on a list of approved primary care suppliers that commissioners are expected to use in future.

While some potential providers may welcome the move, some PCTs are 'likely to be concerned', according to NHS Confederation policy director Nigel Edwards.

'Our members are very nervous of central provision of primary care by the [DoH] commercial directorate or anyone else,' he said.

'There may be local providers that want to get involved and national procurement may only suit big providers.

'People would be quite concerned about this and would want some reassurance that the good intentions that are doubtless inspiring this initial step will not get lost in a rush to deliver the project,' he added.

The DoH would not comment on the decision to centralise procurement of the process, but said 'we want to assist health communities with the poorest level of general practice provision to find innovative ways to increase provision'.