Published: 28/07/2005, Volume II5, No. 5966 Page 6

Foundation trusts are poised to go head-to-head with private providers and GPs in the first national procurement of primary care services.

Three walk-in centres, two new GP practices and one nurse-led practice providing everything from diagnostics to minor surgery will be among the services up for grabs across six primary care trusts.

The PCTs - Barking and Dagenham, Bradford City, City and Hackney, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley, Plymouth and South Sefton - have been selected to be part of the first wave of procurement, scheduled to go out to tender in the autumn, because they have trouble attracting sufficient GPs.

The Department of Health's move to run a national procurement for these locally designed contracts - worth£5m in total - is being seen as a way of encouraging larger NHS and private sector organisations to enter the primary care market.

Announcing the procurement on Tuesday, health secretary Patricia Hewitt said: '[These contracts] will give GPs and other providers the freedom to work with the NHS to develop a range of services needed locally, such as diagnostics, as well as to offer better access to a GP.' Providers involved in some parts of the procurement will be expected to provide 'breakfast' and 'tea-time' access as part of their service provision, which could see patients able to get primary care appointments from 7am-10pm.

NHS Confederation Foundation Trust Network chair Sue Slipman said there is an 'enormous appetite' among foundation trusts to get involved in community services.

'Foundation trusts are all-terrain vehicles and they have an enormous wish to get involved in supporting services in the community and outof-hospital care, ' she said.

The move was also welcomed by Care UK, which has in the past complained that it could not get a foothold in primary care services because the contracts PCTs were offering under alternative provider medical services arrangements were too small to be viable.

The first-wave procurement will be worth a total£5m and the DoH said it hopes to see services opening by early next year. A further 15 PCTs will be involved in the second wave procurement, scheduled for 2006.

National Association of Primary Care chair James Kingsland stressed the importance of contracts being handled to ensure smaller GP enterprises can compete with 'large commercial companies'.

'Anything that improves patient choice and access has got to be welcomed, but we must ensure providers' can prove their services will be sustainable in the long term, and there are equal opportunities for everyone in the NHS family to compete to provide services, ' he said.

Practice-based commissioning: more haste

The deadline for the practice-based commissioning roll-out across the NHS has been brought forward by two years. Primary care trusts are now expected to devolve budgets and management costs to practices by 2006 rather than 2008 as previously agreed.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt announced the earlier deadline in a statement on the forthcoming national primary care procurement (see main story) as HSJ went to press on Tuesday.

The announcement follows health minister Lord Warner's indication that the Department of Health was 'minded' to produce guidance in the autumn that would contain new ways to incentivise practices to start commissioning.