Private company driven out of NHS

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Unison members from Halton – health workers are fighting the privatisation of services at the Warrington and Halton Hospitals Foundation Trust

A HEALTHCARE ‘procurement’ process that named a private provider as the preferred bidder for contracts worth £25m has been abandoned after NHS trusts threatened legal action, it has been reported in the Health Service Journal (HSJ) this week.

The report explains: ‘The HSJ understands Halton Clinical Commissioning Group in the North West of England had chosen One Primary Care – part of One Medical Group – as the preferred bidder to run two urgent treatment centres, but was warned of a challenge from at least one of the incumbent NHS providers last month.

‘GP practices in the borough, who were involved in a joint bid to run the services with NHS providers, had also written to CCG leaders to express concerns. Local MPs had criticised the plans as well.

‘The centres in Runcorn and Widnes are currently run by Warrington and Halton Hospitals Foundation Trust (WWHFT) and Bridgewater Community Healthcare FT respectively. The contracts were together worth an estimated £5m per year and were for a five-year period.

‘The CCG said in its statement: ‘‘During the ‘standstill’ period (when unsuccessful bidders can challenge the process) we were asked to consider a number of points by the unsuccessful bidders.

‘‘‘We are confident that the outcome was correct, however – considering the technicalities raised within the unsuccessful bidders’ letter and the impact of a legal process, in terms of cost to the NHS, and more importantly the delay in implementing a new service model to improve patient care – the CCG governing body took the decision (on Friday last week) to abandon the current procurement whilst future options are being considered …

‘“In the interim, we will continue to work with the current providers of the urgent care centres to ensure that services are provided in line with the needs of local people.”’

It is understood that local GPs were involved in the design of the service, and expressed disappointment that their joint bid with WHHFT and St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals Trust was unsuccessful.

The tender notice, published last year, said the new service model would be based on a nationally-mandated set of requirements to create urgent treatment centres, which seek to standardise services provided at walk-in centres, urgent care centres, and minor injury units.

Rachel Beverley-Stevenson, chief executive of One Primary Care, said: ‘We are in ongoing discussions with all parties and are disappointed that we have not had chance to work on a new model of wellness-led urgent care with the local GPs and the wider system.

‘We are natural collaborators, putting patients first by delivering first class urgent care services in a number of locations, and we were committed to implementing our successful model for the benefit of the people of Halton.’

The company said it successfully runs urgent care centres in Derby, Sheffield, Bracknell and Corby.

When asked about the risk of the company now making a legal challenge, a CCG spokeswoman said: ‘In terms of the preferred bidders position, they continue to be incredibly professional and whilst clearly disappointed with the position, they do not intend to pursue any costs or recourse, and have in fact reaffirmed their commitment to do all they can to positively engage the local clinical community and do what is right for local people.’

Meanwhile, the BMA doctors’ union released the following statement on controversial contractual changes to pensions: ‘The BMA has today launched a pensions modeller to help consultants understand the potential effect of ‘‘punitive” annual-allowance and lifetime-allowance taxation rules – which can result in ‘‘huge and unexpected” tax bills.

‘The modeller, produced in collaboration with Hull consultant radiologist Tony Goldstone, can help calculate any annual-allowance charges to be incurred in future years and any likely “scheme pays” charges.

‘It can also be used to determine how to move in and out of the scheme and how to minimise annual allowance charges.

‘It follows changes to pension legislation which place new limits on the amount that can be paid into a pension each year.

‘A new ‘‘taper” for higher earners means that the current standard annual allowance can reduce to £10,000 and that those who exceed the limits can be hit with huge tax bills.

‘The changes mean consultants are already reducing working hours to avoid vast tax bills – which can be more than £50,000 and represent a marginal tax rate of more than 100 per cent. Patient care and staff morale could be seriously affected.’

BMA consultants committee chair Rob Harwood said the association ‘would continue to lobby the government to make the necessary changes to stop this absurd situation’.

He added: ‘All of us need to act on this issue. All full-time consultants and many part-time consultants will be affected by this punitive tax charge at some stage in their career.

‘This is not something that will only affect older consultants or those who take on large amounts of additional work. Please act to protect yourself now and use the BMA Goldstone Pensions Modeller to clarify your personal circumstances.

‘Consultant members will receive an email with instructions on how to access the modeller and a personal activation code – unique to each member.

‘More information on how the modeller, which is currently only applicable to those consultants on the 1995 and 2015 pensions schemes, works will be available on the BMA website.

‘The tool covers consultants in all four nations but there are some discrepancies for those in Scotland.’