NHS Secrecy: GP consortia to be told to meet in public

Some more good news on the NHS front: After making clear that Foundation Hospital Trusts must hold their board meetings in public, GP consortia have been told they will have to do the same as well.

When the Department of Health announced its response to a review of planned reforms to the NHS, it made very clear in press briefing notes that it intended to make Foundation Hospital Trusts hold their board meetings in public. At present, Foundation Hospital Trusts don’t have to meet in public – one of the ‘freedoms’ they were given under Labour. This change was important because the government wants to give more hospitals foundation trust status.

The DoH has now confirmed it will make GP consortia meet in public too. GP consortia are the organisations which will replace Primary Care Trusts. They will be the real power in the local NHS because they will hold the purse strings. Up until now, it has been unclear whether these consortia would be obliged to meet in public in the way PCTs do.

The DoH says that all consortia – now known as Commissioning Groups because they will include more than just GPs – will be required to have a governing body which must meet in public and publish its agendas:

To enhance transparency and accountability, governing bodies will be required to meet in public and publish their minutes, and clinical commissioning groups will have to publish details of  contracts with health services.

The government was quite explicit in saying that the Foundation Trusts requirement to meet in public would appear in the revised NHS Bill, but no such pledge had been made about the consortia meeting in public. Why was the Foundation Trust point turned into a  key part of a press release but not the consortia? I spoke to the DoH press office tonight and they have said a passage forcing the consortia to meet in public will appear in the Bill as well, subject to a debate on the revisions to the Bill which is due to take place tomorrow.

So far, so good but only time will tell whether the governing bodies of the consortia are as open as PCTs in discussing information in public. Maybe, just maybe, future legislation will include public accountability at the first draft, rather than being added when someone remembers.

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