Published: 03/10/2002 Volume II2, No.5825 Page 5

Two US health maintenance organisations have been selected to work with nine primary care trusts in a pilot project to help modernise community and primary care services.

The Department of Health is understood to be in talks with UnitedHealth Group and Kaiser Permanente to set up projects with PCTs, including North Bristol, Bristol South and West, Airedale, North Tees, Bexley, Luton and North Somerset and two other un-named PCTs.

The HMOs - which provide primary and secondary care services to members paying a yearly insurance premium - develop one-stop shops for community healthcare, create integrated care pathways for chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes, and maximise the use of IT.

A DoH spokesman would not comment on the project cost or the level of involvement from the US. But he stressed. 'We are not talking about turning trusts into HMOs.'HSJ understands the costs will be held centrally by the DoH.

'In the NHS plan, we talk about interest in the 'Kaiser model' where you can organise services as a one-stop shop, for example.

Now we are talking about bringing in somebody with outside experience to make that happen.'

The pilot project will look at better ways of using IT and getting investment into trusts. HSJ sources say UnitedHealth Group is seen as front runner in the talks.

UnitedHealth and the PCTs involved declined to comment.

Meanwhile, an NHS Alliance report on improving access, personnel, information and commissioning says the NHS can learn from HMOs. Author and Northampton GP Dr Andrew Willis visited Kaiser Permanente in California, which provides a emergency room, walk-in centre and call centre with 250 'receptionists' for 3.1 million members.

Dr Willis concludes that the NHS can provide services to the standard of Kaiser without patients paying a premium, but called for government investment in new buildings and IT.