THE Government has put its weight behind plans drawn up by the think tank Mutuo to introduce new mutual governance structures for the delivery of out-of-hours primary care services, continuing the extension of co-operative principles into the NHS.
With the introduction of the new GMS GP contract, on April 1st, legal responsibility to maintain out-of-hours cover will be transferred from General Practices to Primary Care Trusts (PCTs). The Department of Health believes that PCTs should deliver out-of-hours services through new structures based on GP co-operatives, but involving a wider range of local stakeholders, including GPs, staff and potentially members of the public.
Speaking to an audience of 550 GPs and PCT and ambulance trust executives at a conference hosted by National Association of GP Co-operatives, Mutuo and the Department of Health in Hammersmith, Minister of State for Health John Hutton said: "We need to ensure the broadest possible approach to commissioning out-of-hours services, to encourage a range of providers to work with the NHS to progress the developments in service capability we want to see.
"I strongly believe that GP co-ops will have an important role to play as providers of out-of-hours care. We have made this clear in our guidance to PCTs. I am also strongly attracted to the mutual model of governance for GP co-ops.
"Mutuo has provided a way forward on this. I hope every PCT will look at the benefits this approach can offer. Going down this route will allow co-ops to maintain their separate identity and independence and also to build stronger links with other key partners in the NHS. The possibilities are very exciting."
Mutuo's Director, Peter Hunt, said: "Following the Co-operative Movement's positive engagement with the Government's hospital reforms, community ownership is now being extended across the NHS.
"This is the beginning of a new era for our public services, in which decisions will increasingly be taken by local partnerships in the best interests of staff and the community.`
Through Mutuo, DoH officials are consulting with GP co-operatives and other leading mutual organisations as well as Cobbetts Solicitors, to ensure that stakeholders are properly represented in the new mutual NHS structures.
A new Mutuo publication, Delivering Care on Call: an implementation guide for PCTs and GP Co-ops, provides practical guidelines for the establishment of these new bodies, covering procurement, management and other developmental issues.
Delivering Care on Call, by Peter Hunt and Cliff Mills of Cobbetts Solicitors is available from Mutuo, 77 Weston Street, London SE1 3SD, Tel: 020 7367 4152, e-mail: Emma Harrison.