PCTs may use private firms to control patient budgets

Exclusive GPs voice 'conflict of interest' concerns.

PCTs could employ private firms to manage patients' personal care budgets for them, GP newspaper can reveal.

The NHS is piloting personal care budgets, to give patients with long-term conditions greater control of their treatment. Health minister Mike O'Brien recently told MPs that PCTs could commission third parties to support patients in developing their care plans.

Patients 'may want to use another organisation either to manage the budget itself or to provide access to particular kinds of care', he explained.

A DoH spokesman said it was encouraging PCTs to develop 'innovative and creative' models for personal health budgets. 'PCTs can work with voluntary organisations, social enterprises or private companies to explore ways to deliver personal health budgets,' he said.

The move could mean that private companies will help patients to plan and 'buy' their care from the NHS. Some firms already support PCT commissioning work through the DoH framework for procuring external support for commissioners.

Dr David Jenner, GMS lead at the NHS Alliance, said this could create conflicts of interest if firms also provided clinical services to the NHS.

'There are also concerns about firms taking a margin out of budgets meant for vulnerable people,' he added. 'If private companies manage the budget they would be taking a profit.'

Meanwhile, the NHS Co-operation and Competition Panel has ruled that a foundation trust can take over a PCT's community services arm.

North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) will take over services previously provided directly by NHS Barking and Dagenham.

GPs have warned that hospital takeovers of PCT services could create local monopolies and sideline primary care.

But the NELFT takeover does not include GP services. Dr Jenner said he trusted the panel's ruling that there was no danger of 'market capture'.

jonn.elledge@haymarket.com

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