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What is a Primary Care Trust?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2016
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The National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom oversees the government-run health care system. For those coming from privatized health care systems, it may be a little difficult to understand. Especially the term primary care trust (PCT), throws up confusion for those people used to having primary care doctors as provided by health care plans. There is a little bit of relationship between the two, especially when it comes to definition of primary care, which is usually the first stop in a patients’ visit to doctors, even if they will ultimately end up seeing specialists or receiving hospital care.

In the NHS, the primary care trust consists of several different primary care workers, including general practitioners, dentists, pharmacists, opticians, and any physicians that staff walk-in care centers. In each designated area, and there are presently 152 of them, all of the people that are providers in these primary care fields belong to a trust that serves that area. It bears some slight similarity to a health plan network, except that the trust has power to regulate almost the entire health experience for the people in the area it serves.

One of the things the primary care trust does is supervise area hospitals. They make decisions on what services will be offered at hospitals and how much hospitals will be paid for their services. They are usually responsible for the quality of the hospitals in the area, and may make choices about methods for improving that quality.

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The reason why a primary care trust is localized is because each of the areas in which each trust operates is unique. Differences in population, health care needs, and demographics can all better determine how to address the needs of a given area. It’s thought when the trust makes decisions about hospitals, they make them with the best intention toward serving their unique community. However, this doesn’t mean that every decision is best for a single individual. People might sometimes need to go to a larger area to get extremely specialized care, unless they happen to live in a trust that controls large hospitals in populous areas.

The power of primary care trusts shouldn’t be underestimated. They do get most of the money distributed through the NHS. The trusts are sometimes criticized for holding too much power and the lion's share of income from the NHS, and regulations have changed numerous times to allow for people receiving health care to complain if they feel their general practitioner or trust area hospital did not perform as expected. In 2009, patients were given a year to make a complaint instead of only six months, and the NHS demanded the primary care trusts work harder to take the lessons from these complaints and improve care. Nevertheless, complaints aren’t that frequent, given the high number of people each primary care trust serves.

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