Practice-based commissioning (PBC) is part of the Department’s drive to introduce ‘World-Class Commissioning’ in the NHS. Commissioning is the assessment of local health needs and the decision-making about how to provide or procure services to meet these needs. Despite its name, in the majority of the country, GP practices have formed into clusters (also known as consortia) to do this with more purchasing power.

Figures released on the DH website show that there has been a rise in the number of GP practices commissioning new services through PBC. 41% have commissioned new services through PBC. And there has been a 9% rise in the number of practices who self-report that they are engaging with their local population. 62% of practices support the policy of PBC: a small increase on previous figures.
However, a worrying 43% of practices have yet to agree a commissioning plan with their primary care trust (the local NHS administrative unit). This appears confusing, with regard to the finding also released that 71 percent of practices claim to have a good relationship with their PCT (a figure that represents a decline of three percent since the last survey).

Poor managerial support
Just four in ten practices continue to rate their PCT's managerial support for PBC as good: again, this has fallen by 2% since the last such survey In contrast, the number who rate the managerial support from their local PCT for practice-based commissioning as poor is 50%: a 1% increase on the previous survey.

Commenting on these figures, NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon said, “despite small but significant improvements in the numbers of practices who are commissioning new services and those who have agreed a commissioning plan with their primary care trust, practice-based commissioning cannot properly get off the ground until commissioners have access to accurate, meaningful, real-time information. That is absolutely basic. Practice-based commissioning is effectively being sabotaged by this fundamental problem. Whatever the difficulty is, firm action must now be taken to put it right.” By Andy Cowper