The Local Government Association is to examine giving councils commissioning powers over health services in order to better integrate social care and to make the NHS more accountable.
The plan will be considered by a new commission on the NHS, announced last week at the LGA’s annual conference by new chair Simon Milton, the Conservative leader of Westminster Council.
The LGA wants the commission, whose membership and remit is being finalised, to feed into the review of the NHS announced last week by health secretary Alan Johnson, who said improving local accountability would be a key goal.
In his inaugural speech to the LGA as chair, Milton suggested that councils should develop a “local health service alongside the National Health Service” to ensure health services better reflect local needs and priorities.
Currently, primary care trusts, which commission health services, are run by boards appointed by a central appointments commission, while Whitehall targets have dictated their priorities.
But in recent weeks, two former health secretaries – Alan Milburn and the recently departed Patricia Hewitt – have mooted the idea of elected PCTs or even councils taking over health commissioning, to provide a democratic mandate.
The Conservatives have also backed the idea of councils jointly commissioning health and social care.
The LGA commission will also consider how local area agreements – which enable councils, PCTs and other partners to pool resources in pursuit of targets agreed with government – can increase local accountability for the health service.
Johnson said his review, headed by new health minister and leading surgeon Ara Darzi, would also examine how to provide more joined-up services for people with long-term conditions.