Local government leaders have told councils to begin urgent talks with GPs over the integration of health and social care locally ahead of family doctors’ takeover of health commissioning responsibility in 2013.
In its health White Paper, published on Monday, the government issued plans to abolish primary care trusts by 2013, meaning councils will have to establish formal links with GP consortia, which will take over PCTs’ commissioning powers.
The strategy also promised to give councils a new statutory power to drive forward the integration of care locally, along with PCTs’ responsibilities for public health.
However, the reforms have created concerns about a potential loss of specialist knowledge when PCTs are abolished and the loss of impetus towards integration as the NHS reorganises.
Council leaders said this meant it was vital talks began as soon as possible to ensure a smooth transition to the new system, particularly in areas where there is little contact between councils and GPs.
David Rogers, chair of the Local Government Association’s community well-being board said: “I do think that those areas of the country that have already got some of these mechanisms in place or have got good working relationships in conjunction with existing PCTs will be the ones in the best place to take this forward.
“I would say if local government colleagues don’t have this in place to put them into place pretty quickly because otherwise it won’t be possible to do strategic commissioning if those relationships aren’t there.”
Richard Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said other organisations, including private companies offering commissioning support, would also be looking to hold talks with GPs, meaning councils had to engage with family doctors quickly.
Though the Department of Health intends to produce more details on its plans shortly, Jones said it was important councils “don’t wait for the plan”.
John Bolton, interim adult care director at Warwickshire County Council and a former top DH civil servant, said he was concerned at the possible implications for projects and programmes already being undertaken between councils and the NHS and how these would progress during the transition period.
Examples include Blackburn with Darwen Council’s recent decision to merge its management team with that of its local NHS care trust plus.
However, the council’s chief executive, Graham Burgess, said he believed there would be more mergers of council and PCT management teams over the next three years, due to the need to make public service efficiencies and to strengthen health and local authority links before PCTs are abolished.
He added: “We’ve got three years with the existing structure so we’ve got to get ready for the new structure and we have to make efficiencies already.”
He said a council that had merged with its PCT would be in a good position to offer new GP consortia commissioning support as they took control of health budgets in 2013.