Local health services are being given new freedoms to buy NHS care from non NHS providers.Primary care trusts (PCTs), which run local health services, have been given the all clear to buy services from private or voluntary sector providers as well as NHS hospitals.
PCTs are controlled by GPs, nurses and other health and social care workers, plus representatives of patients and the community. By 2004 they will control 75 per cent of the NHS budget.
The Government has billed the change as part of its promise to put NHS decisions in the hands of frontline staff. In effect, it will also mean that any controversial decisions damaging to NHS hospitals and their staff will be taken at arms length from the Government.
The Government says the provider of care is less important than the quality of the care provided and that PCTs can best identify what represents best value for the patient and for the taxpayer.
Accountability for decisions to buy care outside the NHS will have to be explained in the annual patient prospectuses issued locally, and nationally to the new Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection.