Published: 06/05/2004, Volume II4, No. 5904 Page 6

Primary care trusts are to be given financial help and support when drawing up contracts with foundation trusts.

Following pressure from PCTs, NHS chief executive Sir Nigel Crisp's office is looking at ways to offer support to PCTs entering the new era of commissioning.

All contracts between commissioning PCTs and foundation trusts are legally binding, replacing the previous service-level agreements.

South Cambridgeshire PCT chief executive Sally Hind told last week's HSJ commissioning conference that both the Department of Health's foundation unit, and the chief executive's office, had acknowledged that PCTs would need help to ensure robust commissioning, although the support is not likely to be retrospective for PCTs that have already drawn up agreements.

PCTs could be given help in meeting legal bills and providing expert advice.

A model for legally secure contracts has been developed, but some management consultants have warned that PCTs should use the model only as a guide, and they should be aware of the pitfalls the contracts could bring.

Rotherham PCT chief executive John McIvor told last week's conference that his and other PCTs which were contracting with the first wave of foundation trusts had to adapt the model contracts they had been presented with.

He said: 'Already we as PCTs in south Yorkshire are modifying these because they do not meet our needs and the needs of our foundation trusts. The lawyers are there and they are working hard, but be warned, that does cost.'

Chief executives of PCTs who have commissioned services from the first wave of acute foundation trusts complained that the timescale meant the contracts had been rushed through.

They also said that any help offered to PCTs by the DoH would be seen as an acknowledgement that PCTs in some parts of the country were the junior partners in relationships with foundation trusts.

Ms Hind said that drawing up legally binding contracts had 'really stretched' her PCT, but she greeted the decision by the centre to look at offering support to PCTs as 'very positive'.

'We were flagging up issues to the foundation unit, and they are aware of the financial pressures that it has placed on us.'

Ms Hind also warned that PCTs would have to take extra care over what was included in the baseline contract with foundation trusts.