GPs handed £700m in first step of NHS reform

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FAMILY doctors have been handed control of a major chunk of Sheffield’s £1 billion NHS budget as health bosses enact the first stage of the Government’s controversial health reforms.

A small group of eight GPs, a nurse, four lay advisers and three officials have taken over responsibility for £709 million – 71 per cent – of the city’s health commissioning budget.

The money is used for all hospital, ambulance and mental health services.

The Government’s proposals to end the role of the existing Primary Care Trusts and give the budgets to GPs sitting on new Clinical Commissioning Groups have not yet passed through Parliament – and if they do the change will not take place until the end of March 2013.

But The Star can reveal that 71 per cent of the budget previously controlled by NHS Sheffield – the name of the PCT – has already been passed to the commissioning group.

The Government says the changes will remove layers of management and bureaucracy – but opponents are worried the move will open the door to privatisation as new rules on competition and choice allow services to be outsourced to ‘any qualified provider’.

The changes have also been announced in Rotherham, where a commissioning group has taken control of a £329m budget – 70 per cent of the total £461m fund. Barnsley PCT has not yet made the change.

Sheffield PCT chief operating officer Ian Atkinson, who will play a role in the new group, said: “Whilst NHS Sheffield is legally accountable for commissioning health services until March 2013, we have been working closely with our GPs for some time and I’m pleased with the strong position we have reached in Sheffield in preparation for the changes ahead.”

City GP Margaret Ainger, who sits on the group, said: “We see these arrangements as a natural extension of work already being carried out by GPs in the city. We are committed to ensuring that services are of the highest quality, whilst offering value for money.”

Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield said: “The Government wants to turn the health service upside down and invite greater privatisation. It’s wasting time and money when the priority should be front-line care.

“It’s sensible for the PCT to have made these preparations so they’re ready when the new legislation takes effect.”