GP consortia pathfinders in firing line

Handing health budget control and a unparalleled scale of power and accountability to GP consortia puts them right in the firing line for negative publicity, particularly the newly announced 55 pioneer pathfinders.

Given the role of consortia to save the NHS £20 billion the media will focus on the idea that they are more about cost-cutting than improving patient care.

The media will sniff out stories about consortia affecting patient care and the pathfinders need to be ready to manage their image if Lansley’s vision is not to be derailed.

No matter how well-managed, a switch on such a scale will create failures and the media will show no mercy.

I can picture the headlines: GPs saddled with admin, financial returns, audit queries and hospital referrals neglecting patients.  GPs making the wrong referrals, judged unfit to find the best care pathways, part of the postcode lottery injustice.

Patients will vent their concerns to the media that consortia are becoming too large, with centralisation and pooling of resources distancing them from familiar GP staff.

Patients and carers are much readier to air their grievances to journalists or even pen their own citizen blogs and tweets.

Consortia need to be equipped to handle negative media approaches and they need to get onto the front foot with the media, feeding them positive pieces and building bonds.

The risk is that, amid the huge changes taking place, PR is overlooked at a time when consortia must win hearts and minds.

Kay Williamson