The Department of Health has recently published its business plan (the Business Plan) for 2011 to 2015. This sets out the “vision and priorities” for the department over that period, along with information on the structural reform of the NHS, departmental expenditure and plans to improve transparency. The business plan will be updated annually.

The business plan is essential reading in relation to the proposed reforms for the NHS over the next few years. In particular, it provides a much more detailed timetable for the reforms than was set out in the White Paper. The timetable does remain subject to parliamentary timescales and approval but gives a firmer indication of what is expected.

In particular, it firms up timescales for strategic health authority (SHA) and primary care trust (PCT) abolition. The White Paper anticipated SHA abolition to be in 2012/13. The business plan confirms that this will happen in April 2012. Similarly, the White Paper envisaged PCT abolition “from” April 2013. Many took that to be a concession that the timescale might slip, or that there might even be a phased abolition dependent on progress towards GP commissioning in different areas. The Business Plan however, states that PCT abolition will take place in April 2013 and does not suggest any scope for a delayed or phased abolition.

One timescale which remains unclear is the date of publication of the Health Bill. The White Paper said this would be in autumn 2010. The Business Plan does not expressly state a publication date, although it does refer to several matters being included in the Health Bill in December 2010. However, it now looks as though the Health Bill will not be published until January 2011.