Aim: To describe a general practice commissioning project including 19 nonfundholding practices in Buckinghamshire: its structure, aims, representativeness, outcomes, costs and sustainability, and lessons learned from the process over the first 18 months.
Method: Examination of project documentation; postal questionnaire to all 73 participating GPs and to eight key players in the Health Authority (response rate 72%); and in-depth interviews with six Health Authority staff and 15 general practitioners (GPs).
Results: A representative structure and process were established for GP involvement in commissioning. 75% of GPs were involved. Mutual understanding improved between the GPs and the Health Authority. Service improvements identified included developments in orthopaedics, community psychiatric nursing, physiotherapy and ophthalmology. Lessons were learned about the importance of open and continued communication; clarity about expectations, accountability, power and responsibility; development of relationships and understanding in joint working; the time required to achieve tangible results; and the need to develop GPs' commissioning skills.
The project cost about £10000 in cash and £32500 in staff time in the first year. Participants perceived their input as sustainable.
Conclusion: The results of the study suggest that the success of Primary Care Groups will depend on ensuring engagement of all parties in the process, clarifying roles, responsibilities and expectations, identifying shared agendas, developing explicit and achievable goals, and a commitment among all parties to implement recommendations. The work and time involved in developing mutual respect and shared understanding, and in developing commissioning skills need to be acknowledged.