HUNTINGDONSHIRE has once again become a guinea pig for major changes in the way the NHS in managed.

HUNTINGDONSHIRE has once again become a guinea pig for major changes in the way the NHS in managed.

As the district waits to discover which private sector organisation will manage Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon from next year, GPs in the district are spearheading Britain's first two pilot "GP commissioning consortia".

Until now, if a family doctor wanted to refer a patient to a consultant or for specialist treatment, the referral was made through NHS Cambridgeshire, the primary care trust, which actually bought the service.

But primary care trusts are to be abolished in 2013, and the NHS is looking for cheaper and more efficient ways to replace their activities.

In the two pilots - one involving nine practices around Huntingdon (Hunts Health), the other four in the Yaxley and Whittlesey area (Borderline Commissioning Consortium) - the GPs involved are buying health care services directly on behalf of their patients.

Hunts Health, led by Dr Simon Brown, who has been at Ramsey Health Centre for 16 years, also includes practices in Kimbolton, St Neots, Huntingdon, Godmanchester, Eaton Socon, St Ives and Great Staughton. Between them, the practices have a budget of nearly £100million, and look after 80,000 patients.

Borderline is led by Dr Richard Withers, from the Yaxley group practice.

With an unnecessary hospital admission costing £2,000, saving wasted cash would free up money for other Cambridgeshire patients' treatment, Dr Brown said.

The NHS claims the two consortia "will bring together clinical and financial responsibility for buying in health care services, improving quality and, at the same time, using resources more efficiently."

NHS Cambridgeshire's chief executive, Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, said today that clinically-led buying was "much more cost-effective" and that the county was way ahead of the rest of the country in setting up GP-commissioning.

"Throughout this process, our aspiration has been to create a system that aligns clinical and financial accountability, devolves power to front-line clinicians and allows innovation to flourish."

The PCT said other consortia across the county were at the development stage. Between them, they would cover around half the county's patients.