The Conservatives want to en-courage competition to provide out-of-hours care, with GPs at the heart of the plan.
Speaking exclusively to GP, shadow health secretary An-drew Lansley cited social enterprise Devon Doctors. It is owned by Devon's 176 practices and provides out-of-hours care for 1.2 million residents and the 120,000-strong population of Halton, near Widnes, Cheshire.
Mr Lansley said: 'Competition in the provision of out of hours is really interesting. Who's there making decisions about what is provided? GPs.'
He is keen for GPs to lead on commissioning but is critical of PCTs that issue separate contracts for out of hours, accident and emergency, extended hours and ambulances. Entrepreneurial spirit could be tapped, he said, by allowing GPs to tender for this work across these areas.
Chris Wright, chief executive of Devon Doctors, said that two years ago St Helens and Halton PCT commissioned Devon Doctors to provide out of hours in Halton. 'We have a good model, so it was a good thing for us and a very good thing for that area in terms of national performance standards which have been hit.'
He said the distance to Cheshire was not a problem because Devon Doctors was used to working across a large county.
Key to success in Halton was the recruitment of a local board including GPs and nurses, which operates as a 100 per cent subsidiary called Halton Health.
Mr Wright added: 'When contracts come up for tender, it's good to have a cross-section of bidders, not just private for-profit, not just PCT-operated but also social enterprises.'
Comment below and tell us what you think