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Monitor to investigate NHS contract setting

Private care provider makes complaint after NHS trust wins contract

Mark Gould

Monday, 24 August 2015

Healthcare regulator Monitor has confirmed that it is to launch an investigation into the process by which Barking and Dagenham, and Redbridge, Havering and Waltham Forest clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) awarded a care contract to Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust. The contract covers a range of services, including general surgery, orthopaedics and ophthalmology, for 965,000 people.

It follows a complaint by Care UK, one of the biggest private care providers in the UK, which has supplied elective care services in the area for several years. Care UK said the CCGs’ decision to take away the contract was discriminatory, with too much emphasis on price and too little weight on quality.

Monitor said that the investigation would focus on whether the CCGs’ assessment of the bids was “consistent with their obligations to act in a transparent and proportionate way and to treat providers equally”.

Monitor says it will investigate whether the commissioners’ process to select a provider enable them to assure themselves of the quality and efficiency of the services. Care UK said that the CCGs placed too much weight on price and too little weight on quality in the criteria they used to evaluate bids; therefore Care UK thinks the process did not allow the CCGs to identify a provider most capable of meeting patients’ needs and improving the quality and efficiency of services to comply with Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition Regulations.

Care UK had revenues of almost £730m in 2014, with underlying profits of around £53m. The care provider, whose nationwide portfolio includes hospitals, GP surgeries and mental health centres, is owned by the private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust said it was extremely disappointed by the investigation and warned that it would delay the opening of a care centre. The trust insisted that its successful bid had provided the best value for money, which was why it was chosen by the CCGs. “Putting the elective care centre into NHS hands means that patients will have better continuity of care, and waiting times will be reduced,” it said.

Care UK said it welcomed the investigation, adding that the current situation could potentially cause loss of patient choice and raise issues around price competition.

“Care UK is committed to continuing to operate the service to the highest possible standards and continuing to support the local NHS in addressing its performance challenges during the period of Monitor’s investigation,” it said.

A spokesman for the CCGs said: “Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Havering, and Waltham Forest clinical commissioning groups are disappointed that this investigation has been launched. We will of course cooperate fully with Monitor to help them collect the information they require.

“The CCGs remain confident that our arrangements to select a provider of these services were in the best interests of patients, in accordance with the NHS rules on procurement, choice and competition.”

Andrew Gwynne, the shadow health minister, said: “This is a worrying sign of what lies ahead for the NHS under the Tories,” Gwynne said. “David Cameron promised to put doctors in control, but his competition rules allow large private health companies to challenge the awarding of contracts to the NHS. It’s a ridiculous state of affairs that ministers need to urgently address.”

Richard Vautrey, the deputy chair of the BMA’s general practitioners committee, said GPs had concerns about complicated tendering processes, which could favour commercial companies. “We remain concerned that valuable resources that would be better spent on patient care are being diverted into an expensive tendering process and, potentially, into legal challenges about the outcome of contract awards,” he said.

Picture: courtesy of Monitor

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