Editorial: PCTs need to raise game to stave off abolition

This week, GP exclusively reveals that one in six PCTs is failing in its duty to check the language skills of European GPs working out-of-hours shifts across England.

One would have expected language tests to be a priority for PCTs following the tragic, high-profile case of German locum Dr Daniel Ubani, who 'unlawfully' killed patient David Gray, but responses to our Freedom of Information request show that for some it has not been.

This is inexcusable. All patients should be seen by a properly qualified doctor, who can speak English. It is PCTs' responsibility to ensure that this is the case through proper vetting and policing of their performers list. Shirking this responsibility exposes patients to unacceptable risk, as was so tragically illustrated in the case of Mr Gray.

But this is not an isolated incident of trusts failing in their responsibility. Last week, GP revealed that one PCT in three had failed to set out plans for how they would achieve the National Dementia Strategy. Meanwhile, earlier this year, GPs delivered a damning verdict on PCTs in our Rate Your PCT survey (GP, 5 March), with 85 per cent rating their trust's performance as 'fair' or 'poor'.

The government is rumoured to be seriously scrutinising the role of PCTs. Some feel that they could go the same way as SHAs, which are to be scrapped in 2012.

It makes sense. If GPs take responsibility for commissioning and PCTs divest themselves of their provider arms, both of which are current policy, what will PCTs actually be responsible for? Public health, perhaps, although there are suggestions that local government could take on a greater role in this area.

At a time when PCTs' role and function are being questioned, they need to show that they are up to the job of managing local health economies.

The results of our investigations this week and last, coupled with your views from our Rate Your PCT survey, suggests this is not the case. And if PCTs cannot do the job, the government might well decide that it is time someone else did.

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