FAMILY doctors in Sheffield are at the forefront of controversial government reforms which have been compared to tossing a "grenade" into the NHS.
A total of 90 GP surgeries across the city have put themselves forward to "dry run" Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's radical plans.
They will be among the first practices to be handed multi-million pound budgets and given the responsibility for planning and buying local health services. The Sheffield surgeries have been announced as so-called "pathfinders" as MPs on the influential health select committee this week warned the reforms were risky and disruptive.
Committee member Dr Sarah Wollaston, who is a GP, said it felt like "someone had tossed a grenade" into the NHS.
Under the reforms, groups of GPs will take over the 80bn budget of the country's 152 Primary Care Trusts and spend it on commissioning care for patients in their area.
Four groupings of GPs in Sheffield will trial the reforms before they are rolled out across the country from April 2013 and all PCTs are abolished.
They are: the Sheffield West Consortium - a network of 13 surgeries covering a population of 116,000 mainly in the S6, S3, S10, S30 and S35 postcodes, plus much of the city centre extending up the Don Valley to Deepcar; Central Sheffield Consortium - comprising 27 practices and 140,000 people and covering most of Sheffield's inner city GP practices with high levels of deprivation, chronic disease and social need; Hallam and South Consortium - made up of 28 surgeries covering a population of 172,500; and the North Sheffield Consortium, managing over 130,000 patients - more than 20 per cent of the city's population - across 22 different general practices.
GPs groups are likely to receive support from so-called Commissioning Support Units, which will be organisations of bureaucrats and health managers.
Such units could be managed by multinational private health firms, prompting fears of a privatisation of local NHS commissioning services.
A leading health thinktank, the Nuffield Trust, yesterday warned the reforms could turn patients against GPs because doctors are likely to start receiving "unpalatable" cash bonuses.
It warns the new GP consortiums could end up alienating people if they offer doctors financial incentives not to send too many patients to hospital.
Andrew Lansley said the shake-up was necessary to create "better results for patients and a more efficient NHS".
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