8. What plans he has to assist GP commissioning in rural areas. (13154)
Our proposals in the White Paper will enable general practices to structure commissioning to reflect the character of the area they serve. Practices in rural areas, such as Cumbria and Cambridgeshire for instance, are exploring commissioning models. To support GP consortiums, we will create a statutory NHS commissioning board.
The Minister will be aware that many women make the choice to have a home birth and delivery, but unfortunately, in many rural areas, maternity services have historically been under-resourced. What steps does the Minister envisage better to support home delivery in rural areas, and to support GPs in their commissioning of these services in the future?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking up the chairmanship of the all-party group on maternity. I know that his work with it will be very valuable, particularly in the light of his previous experience in the health service. Contrary to what Labour Members believe, this is an important opportunity to put general practices—in all their shapes and forms within all the professions—at the very heart of shaping services. As he said, home births and choice in maternity services are crucial for women.
I have concerns about the effect of the Secretary of State’s proposals for GP commissioning on services in rural areas and urban areas such as mine. Greater Manchester PCT provided strategic leadership in the recent reconfiguration of children’s services, which was very contentious. Can the Minister clarify how that strategic leadership will be provided in the future reconfiguration of cancer, maternity and ambulance services in Greater Manchester, as GP commissioning will be focused on local health needs and national commissioning on national specialities?
The hon. Lady made the point that urban and rural areas have very different needs. What is vital are the people on the front line, making decisions and offering the leadership and vision to shape those services. I do not think that she will find many people lining up to save PCTs, whose commissioning has not always been as successful as she would like to believe.
I should like to suggest to the Minister that it might help GPs who are commissioning in rural areas if the formula for capitation were to include the information that their patients live in sparsely populated areas, as well as information about their age, especially in constituencies such as mine and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter).
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of the distances covered in rural areas. I believe that only ambulance trusts currently have the opportunity to reflect that. This is why it is so important that local commissioners will shape the services for their patients. It is they, not the pen-pushers in the PCT, who know best what is right for their patients.