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Government retreat on handing over PCT services

Published on 03/11/05 at 11:35am

The government has retreated on plans for a mandatory opening up of primary care services to alternative providers.

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt told the Commons that decisions to hand over primary care services to alternative providers, including the independent and voluntary sectors and foundation trusts, will be a matter for individual PCTs to decide.

"Community staff will continue to be employed by their PCT unless and until the PCT decides otherwise following full local public consultation," the health secretary told the Commons.

Hewitt will no longer insist that PCTs stop directly employing community nurses and staff that provide chiropody, physiotherapy and speech therapy services.

The move is a climbdown on the government's original position laid down in the Department of Health's paper, Commissioning a patient-led NHS, published in July of this year.

In the paper, the NHS chief executive Sir Nigel Crisp said PCTs should make arrangements for services to be provided from a range of providers - rather than directly through PCTs themselves.

The government's climbdown follows opposition from MPs and key health service bodies, like the NHS Confederation and NHS Alliance, which objected to the blanket policy of divestment.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs Committee, welcomed the government's move and said the BMA had always opposed a blanket plan for all PCTs to divest themselves of providing services.

"We believe that this issue must and should be discussed locally and that decisions should be taken which are in the best interests of patients, the service and the staff," commented Dr Meldrum.

"So we welcome this announcement and hope that those PCTs who have already embarked on a rather headlong rush to divest themselves, will take note and make sure they consult in accordance with the health secretary's directions," he added.

In the statement to parliament, Hewitt added that the rights of staff whose organisations are taken over by new providers would be protected.

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