In July, the Department of Health  announced that Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) will have to choose three or more services out of eight selected service priorities, and open up these services to ‘Any Qualified Provider’—including charities.

These service priorities range from services for back and neck pain, to adult talking therapies for mental health problems, and in extremis PCTs can choose service priorities not on the list of eight. The timetable for implementation is tight, with pressure for PCTs to have implemented service provision by September 2012. And then in during 2013/2014 government aims to extend this list to include services such as long term chronic condition management and children’s talking therapies. So this is an interesting challenge for charities. If they provide the services chosen by their local PCT cluster, they can become a Qualified Provider.

As a patient, if I needed support for mental health issues, I personally would welcome an option to talk to someone from a local charity rather than flogging to some soulless outpatient unit next to a dismal psychiatric ward. And as the process is allegedly going to be based on quality rather than price (prices will be fixed), hopefully this will mean charities adding special value to services will win contracts. But we have to wait until autumn for the qualification requirements and I’m uncertain as to how basic or sophisticated they will be. I do believe however that providers able to prove their added value—good outcomes measurement will be essential to demonstrate this—are more likely to succeed than others. And of course once they become a Qualified Provider, they will need to attract patients and referrals. Again, proving quality/outcomes will be important here. So charities should prepare to be match fit.

In the short term some charities are on the offensive: first you have to ensure that your service is one of the ones selected by your PCT cluster. Whizz-kidz is clearly on the ball on this. And then you have to ensure you are a Qualified Provider—no doubt plenty to do here.

However I have to confess to being slightly puzzled by this process as in practice I’ve seen charities delivering health services in a number of sectors—eg, palliative care and mental health services, often with local PCT contracts. But maybe this makes the policy more definite. I’m also not 100% clear on where we stand with PCTs generally given the status of the wider NHS reforms, now adjusted to take into account NHS Future Forum’s concerns. These should be winding their way through Parliament in the autumn, and will almost certainly flush out further issues for charities.

So all very interesting. But definitely time for charities to get on the front foot. Let us know if you need help thinking anything through.