Primary care trust chief executives are calling for “lighter touch” assessment of their progress on commissioning, despite efforts made by the Department of Health to ease the process.

PCT Network director David Stout said most PCTs still found the process “potentially distracting from the day job”, even though the DH had “made efforts to make it less burdensome”.

Some of the better performers could be liberated

He suggested PCTs could be given a year off from the assurance process if they reached a certain level of performance.

Berkshire West chief executive Charles Waddicor said the DH should move away from the current “sheep dip process” of looking at all PCTs.

“Some of the better performers could be liberated,” he told HSJ.

NHS Calderdale chief executive Rob Webster agreed. He said: “As it [WCC] matures it would be good to see those changes.

“I think there’s a general requirement to make sure the burden of regulation….is not too heavy. I would support a lighter touch,” he said.

Regarding the outcome of this year’s process, Mr Webster said: “I think we’ll be okay, we’re looking to move up.” He highlighted improvements such as the introduction of joint public meetings with other services, close collaboration on major projects by public sector leaders, and the appointment of a medical director.   

He said good commissioning was fundamental to meeting the financial and productively challenge faced by the NHS. Mr Webster defined improving outcomes while making savings as “like trying to drive and change a wheel at the same time”.

NHS Redbridge chief executive Heather O’Meara suggested deadlines should be put in PCTs’ strategic plans that said “this is when we realise these benefits”, in order to focus on outcomes during this period of financial hardship.

She said overall the year two assurance process had “felt more streamlined and better”.

“We’ve integrated it into our core business,” Ms O’Meara said, adding that there had been no issues serious enough to be described as a “show stopper”.

In December last year, NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson told HSJ PCTs should be focusing on improving commissioning, rather than on gathering evidence about it.

He wanted commissioners to “revamp, rewrite, redraft, and refresh” their strategies so that they would reflect the new “financial reality”.

He said then: “I go into PCTs and I still find that they’re collecting the minutiae to show that they’ve got the competency 3 part C. We just don’t want that this year.”