The PCT Network has called on the Department of Health to reduce the “central direction” of primary care trusts to a minimum in the operating framework.

PCT Network director David Stout said the framework, which is due to be published next month, should include urgent measures to reduce pressure on PCTs or risk harm to patients.

He said the fewer central requirements for PCTs, the more they could focus on supporting the commissioning transition and the quality, innovation, productivity and prevention programme.

As previously reported by HSJ, the network has already called on the government to set out what PCT statutory functions can be stopped in order to reduce pressure on PCT managers.

Mr Stout reiterated this point by calling on the DH to “rationalise” PCT functions and duties now rather than waiting until commissioning consortia are established.

He also called for confirmation that PCTs remain responsible for discharging statutory functions until they are replaced, warning there is a “risk that there is ambiguity in some of the messages currently coming from the DH”.

He cited recent correspondences from the DH, which referred to the roles and responsibilities of “local commissioners” and in some instances made no reference to PCTs at all.

Mr Stout said: “Our members are concerned that PCTs’ capacity to maintain focus and grip on local priorities is being eroded. They are being required to oversee a number of complex transition plans while delivering savings, with steadily reduced management resources.

“PCTs fully understand the contribution they need to make to savings in the coming years. But we believe there are serious risks to financial control and the quality of services over the next few years if changes in the system management of the NHS are not urgently made to take account of this.”

He added: “Many feel that urgent action on these issues is required to address risks to financial control, worsening service quality and ultimately harm to patient care.”

In October, the network sent PCTs a comprehensive list of the nearly 300 statutory and non-statutory functions they currently have to perform to aid discussions with commissioning consortia.