STRUCTURE: NHS Wirral has struck a deal to provide nearly 120 of its staff as “commissioning support” for GP consortia. It has told those employees their future could be in a private sector joint venture.

Primary Care Trust Network director David Stout called the arrangement an “early example” of the kind of reorganisation every PCT will be expected to set up by June.

A report to the PCT’s 8 February board meeting said all of Wirral’s three consortia had now been recognised nationally as pathfinders. The PCT had met with each of them to negotiate a commissioning support agreement.

Under the deal, 18 staff will be moved into “core teams” to support GPs, while nearly 120 will be “aligned into” the PCT’s “commissioning support offer”.

These employees will be told the deal will hold until March 2012 and “potentially beyond”, depending on the needs of the consortia, the report added.

The report said after that date they might get another year’s work for the PCT, or may end up working for a consortium, a social enterprise, or a “joint venture with the private sector”.

Mr Stout said it was possible many PCTs had delayed making plans like NHS Wirral’s because they were waiting for expected Department of Health human resources guidance on the changes, which had not yet been released.

“If you can reach agreement without guidance, that’s good,” he said. “It’s with areas where they might be struggling to agree how to go about it that guidance might be helpful.”

Questions which might create problems included how much freedom consortia had to choose their support staff and if the new organisations could “compete” for certain PCT employees, he said.

Commenting on the DH’s plans to publish the guide “before the end of the year”, Mr Stout said: “If the end of the year means 31 March, and the intention is to sort this out by June, that leaves little time.”

NHS Wirral priced the operating costs of the consortia at £26-£27 per head of the population, but said this may reduce “following the conclusion of [NHS Wirral’s] voluntary redundancy scheme”.