Royal College of GPs chief executive Neil Hunt has admitted most family doctors do not understand the services charities can offer and will need to gain a firmer grasp of the third sector if they are to become effective commissioners.

Mr Hunt said: “There are not that many GPs who really get the third sector, from what I can tell. That is a serious education issue that is starting to register in the college.”

He was speaking at a conference on the Future of Health and Social Care, organised by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations last Friday.

Mr Hunt recently joined the RCGP from the Alzheimer’s Society. He told the audience of charity leaders: “Your knowledge, your skills and connection to the local community are a resource.

“GPs really need to understand this if they are going to be taking responsibility more effectively than they have been for the health system.”

ACEVO head of policy Ralph Michell agreed with Mr Hunt.

He said: “There are a very large majority [of GPs] who don’t really get what the third sector has to offer and even if they did, wouldn’t know how to find out more and start working with them more.”

GPs would have to engage with charities to reach excluded groups such as homeless people, which will be required of them as commissioners, he said.

Mr Michell said it was a “symptom of the wider problem that the NHS exists in its own massive bubble”. He added: “We’re confident we will make progress. We’re just going to have to start from a fairly low knowledge base.”

A Monitor spokeswoman emphasised the regulator’s remit was to stop anti-competitive behaviour, and said GP commissioners would not be allowed to exclude potential providers “on the basis of ownership alone”.