‘Political football’ danger for PCTs

PCTs could become ‘political footballs’ if plans to hold local elections to appoint their senior management go ahead, GP leaders have warned.

A senior Labour Party figure and former health minister bidding to become deputy leader of the party has included the plan in her manifesto.

Salford MP Hazel Blears, currently Labour Party chairwoman, has criticised PCTs’ lack of democratic accountability and  called for ‘an element of local representation’.

‘PCTs have a huge say over our lives, yet we have no direct say over them. We should introduce an element of direct representation on PCTs with local elections to their boards,’ her manifesto says.

Her plans follow a poll for Ernst & Young last November that found almost 70 per cent of people back directly elected local health commissioners.

GPC negotiator Dr Richard Vautrey said that the GPC does not have a formal position on direct PCT elections.

But he said: ‘I’d want to avoid  PCTs becoming pseudo-local councils with party affiliations.’

‘We want to avoid health being a political football and local politicians following the pattern of national politicians.’

There was a risk health could end up no longer being the main priority, Dr Vautrey warned.

However, Dr Helen Alpin, a Leeds GP and joint chairman of Leeds PCT professional executive committee, said that direct elections ‘have mileage’.

‘You cannot have a completely elected board, but it should reflect more representation from local communities.’

Practices are building local representation through patient forums and PCT elections would develop this ‘at a strategic level’.

In New Zealand, health board members are elected at the same time as local councillors. This led to a constructive relationship between local communities  and central government, Dr Alpin said.

PCTs suffer from a ‘democratic deficit’, Richard Lewis, senior fellow at the King’s Fund said.

‘There is a long-held belief  that PCTs are the least democratic of all NHS bodies and the most distant from the people they serve.’

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