Chatteris doctors at forefront of changes

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A FENLAND doctors’ practice is at the cutting edge of changes to the way health care will be funded in the future.

The George Clare Surgery at Chatteris has joined one of two new pilot GP Commissioning Clusters launched in Cambridgeshire this week.

They have become part of the Isle of Ely Cluster, which largely covers the Ely area.

It means the cluster will be responsible for buying in health care services for the patients they look after.

So as well as providing the traditional range of family doctor services the GPs will also be responsible for buying in hospital services, community and mental health services for their patients.

These latest clusters follow on from the successful launch in September of Hunts Health and Borderline Commissioning Clusters - which were the first pilot GP clusters to be launched in the country.

Dr John Szekely, one of the senior partners at the George Clare Surgery which looks after nearly 12,000 patients, explained the practice was keen to get in at the earliest possible stage to this latest change to the way health services are provided.

The government aims to replace the existing system, which involves the Primary Care Trust commissioning services for patients, with the Clusters within the next two years.

Dr Szekely said his practice was simply being pragmatic as they would eventually have to join a Cluster within the near future.

And he explained by being involved from the beginning they were hoping to have some say in the way the system evolves.

“This is the largest change to the way health services are provided since the introduction of fund-holding in the 1990s. That was introduced in phases with the larger practices being in phase I - we were in Phase III and by that time we couldn’t influence the process.

“From that experience we decided we wanted to be involved in a Cluster from the word go and hopefully we will be able to influence the development of the processes and the manner in which they are put into practice.”

He said there were some worries about the implications of the changes as they will mean doctors potentially facing a greater workload - as they will have to decide how the Cluster spends its budget.

But he was open-minded about the system which he believes could prove beneficial for patients in the long run as they will potentially have a greater influence on the services provided for them.

Dr Szekely said one of the main hopes is that more services will be provided closer to home so patients won’t have to face long journeys for essential treatment.

There will not be any extra cash for services and Dr Szekely said there could even be some cuts as the idea is the Clusters will be more cost-effective in commissioning services.

Dr Szekely admitted that many doctors were nervous about taking on the financial responsibility and said there would be a need for administrative support within Clusters.

But it is not yet clear how much money will be provided to cover these costs, which are currently covered by the PCT as it is responsible for administering the health budget.

“The big question is - are GPs the best people to do this? Are they going to be capable of setting up organisations that are able to administer the demands of the Cluster - that is the crucial question,” said Dr Szekely, who added that all doctors know their limitations and will do what they can to make the new system work.

“Some doctors are relishing the idea, and some, naturally, are extremely apprehensive as this is such a huge change but hopefully it will prove to be a change for the better in the long run - but only time will tell.”