Somerset's GP commissioning consortium is one of 141 groups across England that will pilot the new model. It recognises the need for PR support, although its members are undecided as to whether this will involve an in-house function, external support or a mixture of the two.
Dr David Rooke, chair of the transition group that is in the process of forming the consortium, says: 'PR and comms will be integral to everything we do. We need to be able to communicate who we are and what we do to patients, the local and national media, as well as local politicians and GPs.'There is a lot of work to do and we recognise that PR support will be needed.'
Another factor for Dr Rooke in placing a priority on PR support is 'keeping control of the arguments and messages'. He adds: 'We do not want our work to become a football for local and national politicians to kick around. We want to be able to explain to them and patients clearly what we do.'
To help the consortium assess its comms needs, it was awarded a £50,000 grant from the Department of Health in March. A local GP practice manager has been appointed to manage this project, which will focus on finding the best model for engaging with local politicians and patients. Currently, PR for the consortium is being handled by the local PCT, NHS Somerset.
Dr Rooke is keeping an open mind as to whether to rehire its PR staff or bring in PR agency support. 'Over time, we will look at all the functions of the PCT, including PR, to see what we need and what can transfer over. I have no preference at this stage as to who does our PR, as long as they are able to provide the broad range of support we need to communicate with our staff, the media, patients and local politicians,' he says.