GPs will decide whether the first telephone-based care management service in the UK should continue.

The contract for Birmingham OwnHealth, a telephone-based service offering one-to-one support and advice for people with long term conditions, is due to expire next March. And its primary care trust has put its future in the hands of GPs.

Andrew Donald, chief operating officer for NHS Birmingham East and North, which commissioned the service in 2006, said the move was appropriate in the light of the government’s plans to devolve commissioning responsibility to GPs. The PCT has suspended plans to retender for the service.

Donald told the annual conference of the EMIS National User Group: “I have said to general practices that they now have to make a decision whether or not to continue and develop the service.”

He said future GP commissioning consortia could decide to renew the service as it now operates, opt for a model called Birmingham OwnHealth Choice, or decide to abandon the service.

Birmingham OwnHealth Choice is based on a scheme operating in Italy, where telephone-based care management is based in primary care centres.

Donald added: “My own view is that if it disappears we have lost the legacy and we are back to square one counting widgets.”

BirminghamOwn Health is run by the PCT in conjunction with NHS Direct and Pfizer Health Solutions UK.

It now has 8,600 members, who are patients with LTCs such as diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmaonary disease.

Patients who join the programme work with a designated care manager over the telephone to manage their condition, make changes to their lifestyle and learn about treatments, medicines and services.

Donald said an independent evaluation, due to be published, showed improvements in clinical metrics such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure readings and blood sugar levels and high patient satisfaction ratings.

He added: “I could implement this sort of programmne in Finland or Italy, but in England introducing this type of intervention is virtually impossible.

"There isn’t enough imagination to realise that people need to take better care of their health, rather than focusing on treatment. If we don’t do that we won’t make a gain in health status for people across a far bigger footprint than Birmingham East and North.”

Donald told EHI Primary Care that the move to give GPs control of Birmingham OwnHealth’s future was part of wider plans to pass the PCT’s commissioning budget to shadow GP consortia from next April.

He added: “I believe in getting on with these things as quickly as we possibly can do and I think its the right thing to do.”