Primary care trusts to be merged ahead of abolition

Primary care trusts will be merged into “clusters” next year ahead of their abolition in 2013, the government announced today.

Clusters will be established by June 2011 and support the development of new GP consortia, which will take over responsibility for health commissioning from PCTs in 2013 under the government’s NHS White Paper reforms.

The Department of Health announced the move through its NHS operating framework for 2011-12, which was published today and sets the service’s priorities for the next financial year.

The framework follows the DH’s confirmation today that it will press ahead with the White Paper reforms, despite strong opposition from unions and concerns among NHS leaders over their ability to deliver radical change in a period of austerity.

Each cluster will have its own executive team and will assign staff to develop consortia while ensuring PCTs’ existing statutory responsibilities, such as safeguarding, are fulfilled.

“While PCTs will have a critical role up to April 2013, we do not expect to maintain 151 fully functional separate organisations up to that time, particularly if we want to offer capacity and space to emerging GP consortia,” the operating framework says.

The creation of clusters will have implications for the relationship between councils and the NHS. Currently, most PCTs share boundaries and joint arrangements, including joint management posts, with a single local authority. Further information on their establishment will be published next month.

As previously reported, the operating framework confirmed that PCTs, as part of clusters, would be allocated £648m in 2011-12 and £622m in 2012-13 to transfer to local authorities to spend on adult social care, in line with local agreements.

“PCTs will need to work together with local authorities to agree jointly on appropriate areas for social care investment, and the outcomes expected from this investment,” the framework states. “This could include current services such as telecare, community directed prevention (including falls prevention), community equipment and adaptations, and crisis response services.”

Additionally, PCTs will be required to produce plans on dementia services and their support for carers in 2011-12. The NHS is being allocated £400m from 2011 to 2015 to spend on short breaks for carers, which the operating framework said should be pooled with local authority funding and delivered through personal budgets or direct payments.

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