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GP Commissioning (Financial Information)

Volume 517: debated on Tuesday 2 November 2010

7. What mechanisms he plans to introduce for public access to financial information about general practices under his Department’s proposals for GP commissioning. (20935)

Under our proposals, commissioning budgets will be held by GP-led consortiums, which will be established as statutory bodies, rather than by individual GP practices. The commissioning budgets will be distinct from the income that GP practices earn under their contracts for providing primary medical care. GP consortiums will have to make their accounts available to the public.

I welcome the Minister’s reply. As GP practices have always been treated as private partnerships and are not open to financial scrutiny or freedom of information requests, it is important that £80 billion of public spending is, in the way he describes, subject to scrutiny, including by this House.

May I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that the NHS commissioning board will not allocate commissioning budgets directly to GP practices? Neither will they be included in either partnership or individual GP accounts. As is the situation now, those GP accounts will remain entirely separate. Our proposals set out clear lines of accountability in respect of commissioning resources. Each GP consortium must prepare a set of annual accounts, which the NHS commissioning board will include in its consolidated account. I hope that that reassures the right hon. Gentleman.

Will the Minister confirm that patients and councillors will sit on consortium boards, and that the boards will meet in public, so that there will be real transparency and accountability at the point of decision making, and accountability will not be sidelined to health and well-being boards?

May I explain to the hon. Lady that, no, councillors will not be on the GP consortiums? They will have a full and active role to play on the health and well-being boards, so that they can take a full part in determining the local needs of the local health economy. That is the right venue for them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that as those commissioning consortiums are established, it will be important to ensure that they are subject to proper financial assurance, in the same way as Monitor applies such principles to foundation trusts? Can he assure the House that that will be one of the responsibilities of the NHS commissioning board?

There is not altogether the same comparison to be made with Monitor and foundation trusts, but I certainly understand and take on board the general principle behind my right hon. Friend’s question. I think that it is important that there is accountability.

The Government want to create about 500 new GP commissioning groups and scrap 150 primary care trusts, which the King’s Fund says will cost £3 billion. Yet, last year the current Prime Minister promised that

“there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures… The disruption is terrible, the demoralisation worse—and the waste of money inexcusable.”

Can the Minister tell us when the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) changed his mind?

May I begin by congratulating the hon. Lady on her elevation to this position? I know that in the past she has worked at the Department of Health, so her experience will no doubt help her Front-Bench colleagues who do not share such a background. However, she is factually wrong, although no doubt she will not be wrong in the future, because we have never said that there will be 500 consortiums. It will up to local decision making to determine how many consortiums there will be. The hon. Lady can believe what she reads in the newspapers, but if I were her I would wait to see what actually happens.