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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2021

5 - Commissioning Primary Care Services: Concepts and Practice



Under the HSCA 2012, NHSE was responsible for commissioning primary care services. However, in 2014 CCGs were invited to volunteer to take on responsibility for commissioning services from their member GP practices in addition to their wider responsibilities for commissioning acute and community services. This chapter draws upon research into the establishment of the ‘co-commissioning’ of primary care services by CCGs, which was conducted from April 2015 to April 2017 (McDermott et al, 2018). This chapter starts by exploring the history of primary care commissioning and financing in England and discusses the broad policy objectives which underpinned this significant change in CCGs’ role and scope. It examines whether and how the policy intention works in practice and explores factors affecting development of the policy, highlighting concerns over conflicts of interest, challenges in implementing the policy and unintended consequences. For clarity, the term ‘primary care commissioning’ is employed because this is the term used throughout the relevant policy documents. While globally the term ‘primary care’ often refers to the full range of out-of-hospital services, including community nursing and so on, in the UK, for the purposes of commissioning, a distinction is usually made between primary care (including GP services, and services provided by dentists and optometrists), secondary care (including standard hospital services), community care (including community nursing and a range of community-based services such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and so on) and specialised care (including highcost, low-volume services). Following the HSCA 2012, CCGs were responsible for commissioning secondary and community care, whilst NHSE was responsible for primary and specialised care. In this book, references to primary care services predominantly mean primary medical care provided by GPs, as these are the services at which commissioning policy has been directed.

History of primary care commissioning and financing in England

The current primary care system in England is based on GPs being the contractors to the NHS rather than employees. This system was born out of the decision made at the establishment of the NHS in 1947 (Checkland et al, 2018b). This enabled GPs to remain independent of the NHS in a legal sense (although in reality the majority of practices depended overwhelmingly on NHS income), minimising their opposition to the NHS (Lewis, 1997; Peckham and Exworthy, 2003).

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