The Department of Health must resolve problems with the Secondary Uses Service if practice-based commissioning (PBC) is to succeed, according to the Audit Commission.

The commission’s report on progress with PBC, Putting Commissioning into Practice, recommends that the DH reviews the adequacy and timeliness of the SUS’s ability to provide activity data for PBC.

The Audit Commission report also recommends that PCTs should work closely with GP practices to make sure that the information provided is relevant and timely and that practices should be engaged in data validation processes.

The commission visited 16 PCTs for its study on PBC and says its overall impression on information provision was negative.

It says almost two thirds of the 122 practices that responded to its survey reported that information on patient activity was not provided on a timely basis and 69% did not find the information provided useful for budget management purposes.

The report adds: “In our interviews with practices almost all commented on the variability and infrequency of data provision. Furthermore, where it was provided, it was often out of date.”

The researchers report that PCTs and practices said they regularly experienced significant delays in obtaining information from the SUS with quarterly hospital activity data typically provided by the SUS three months after the end of each period.

The Audit Commission said this could have been because the SUS was relatively new when it conducted its study earlier this year.

However it says: “PBC will not work without the provision of prompt and accurate information to practices. This is a critical area for improvement.”

The report says a small number of PCTs had implemented sound IT infrastructures to provide practices with timely and reliable information, either by adapting their information management systems or buying off-the-shelf solutions to capture and analyse referral data,

The report also recommends that PCTs should implement data capture arrangements to monitor news services developing in primary care and community settings.