The rollout of AQP started last April after the DH identified eight community and mental health services that could be provided under the policy. Under AQP providers needs to be approved by a PCT to go onto a list of providers from which patients are given a choice.
A DH spokesman told GP that PCTs are due to have the contracts for the 39 service areas finalised by the end of October. PCTs will then be able to advertise these contracts on the Supply2Health website, allowing providers from the private and voluntary sectors, as well as the NHS, to apply for approval.
Providers will only be able to refused by commissioners if they reject the price offered, refuse to agree to local standards or to comply with pathways and referral thresholds, or if they fail quality standards.
A DH spokesman said: ‘The choice of service made available for AQP is by no means "top down". For 2012/13, PCT clusters were asked to offer patients choice of AQP in at least three services which were identified as local priorities through local engagement. Of the 39 services listed, only eight were identified as national priorities. These were proposed after substantial engagement with national patient groups, and had their strong support.’
National Association of Primary Care chairman and Surrey GP Dr Charles Alessi said there were a lot of misconceptions about AQP. ‘It is not a bidding process,' he said. 'Nobody is forcing anybody to use AQP.
'From April, it will be up to the clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) whether they wish to use AQP or not. Palliative care services and about a third of mental health services are delivered by independent providers.
He added: 'People use them quite a lot. There could be 39, 40, 1,000 or one service delivered through AQP. It depends whether CCGs want to use it. The CCGs will look at whether it is best. Anybody who wants to be considered can apply through the Supply2Health website. It is quite a straight forward process.’
On the expansion of AQP, GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘That may be what DH expect but I doubt whether all PCTs will be able to deliver, they simply don't have the capacity anymore to do it.
'At a time when PCTs should be working with CCGs going through the authorisation process it's unreasonable for DH to be pushing ahead with their AQP policy in this way.’