Biggest mental health trust at mercy of worried doctors

The first major casualty of controversial NHS reforms, which give doctors the power to commission services, looks set to be the end of the West’s biggest mental health organisation, it emerged yesterday

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Doctors in both Bristol and in Wiltshire are looking into the possibility of scrapping an agreement with the troubled Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership (AWP) and ‘re-tendering’ the job of looking after mentally-ill patients in their individual areas.

The Government’s NHS reforms mean that, for the first time, GP practices can decide who or what organisation or hospital treats its patients, instead of larger primary care trusts. But GPs in most areas are banding together to form larger clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), but they still have the power to hire other NHS providers of services.

Doctors in Bristol have announced their intention to ‘re-tender’ their mental health services, while those in Wiltshire, who have recently formed a new CCG, have also been warning they could follow suit.

In papers that emerged this week at a board meeting of the out-going primary care trust for Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset, it was revealed that doctors in Wiltshire were so concerned about the performance of the AWP that they asked for a ‘warning notice’ to be issued against it.

Since then, with the prospect of being dropped by almost every doctor that is supposed to use it, AWP has undergone a radical transformation. Last month, the Western Daily Press revealed that the two most senior bosses in charge at AWP had both left – chairman Felicity Longshaw resigned and chief executive Laura McMurtrie was described as taking a ‘period of leave’ from her job.

The primary care trust in South Gloucestershire, which commissions AWP on behalf of neighbouring trusts from Avonmouth to Salisbury, enacted a rescue plan for the troubled partnership, with doctors demanding better service from the AWP, particularly out of hours.

Finance director Jennifer Howells, from Wiltshire and B&NES primary care trust, said there had been “particular concerns about the delivery of the existing mental health provider”.

A statement from AWP said: “AWP remains totally committed to meeting the needs of our communities in Wiltshire and we are working collectively with all our commissioners to strengthen the responsiveness and effectiveness of our services.

“Our staff deliver some outstanding care and support to those who need our help. Service users and carers can be confident that consistently meeting their needs remains our top priority,” it added.


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