Handing more commissioning power to family doctors should not result in a return to the divisive aspects of GP fundholding, says The King's Fund

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The government's new approach to handing family doctors their own budgets to commission health services should result in some of the positive outcomes, and avoid the divisive consequences, of the similar GP fundholding policy of the 1990s NHS internal market, The King's Fund said today.

Responding to Health Minister John Hutton MP's announcement that family doctors are to get their own budgets to commission services from April 2005, The King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:

'This is an exciting development and should help to increase the influence of front-line clinical staff, and make the NHS more responsive to the needs of patients. Family doctors will now be able to use their intimate knowledge of patients to design services that meet their individual needs.

'It will also re-engage general practices in the commissioning process - something that is vital if we are to deliver a better service for patients. It should encourage family doctors to treat more patients in their own practices where appropriate rather than referring them to hospital, with the added bonus of reducing demand on already over-stretched hospitals.'

The King's Fund published a report into this policy - known as practice-led commissioning - in June 2004. Practice-led Commissioning: Harnessing the power of the primary-care frontline, highlighted the similarities and differences between this and GP fundholding.

The report author, The King's Fund fellow Richard Lewis, said:

'This is a topic that has been controversial in the past but we believe there could be real benefits from giving local practices more scope to shape services and with fewer drawbacks than the experiments in the 1990s. We were particularly encouraged that two of the key organisations representing primary care are broadly agreed on the way forward - both the National Association of Primary Care and the NHS Alliance have endorsed this approach and helped The King’s Fund to develop the report.'

Notes to editors

1. For further information or interviews, please contact The King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585.

2. On 10 June 2004 the King's Fund published Practice-led Commissioning: Harnessing the power of the primary-care frontline, by Richard Lewis. This is free to download from our online bookshop.

3. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through grants. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership and education courses; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.