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Privatisation fear over outsourcing of GP support services

NHS England is opening up a £100 million contract for operating GP support services to a full public procurement, which could see private sector companies taking over the management of cancer screening programs and back office functions.

Attempts to retain primary care support services in-house have failed because it has not been possible to develop a ‘viable solution’ which delivered the required efficiency savings, NHS England has announced.

The announcement follows a closed board meeting where members voted on three options to provide the services, that also include processing medical records and performer and contractor list administration, in a bid to save £40m from its £100m primary care support services budget. This includes cutting a series of services no longer to be centrally funded.

The third option, which would have involved directly awarding services to SSCL – a joint venture between the home office and Steria - and could have seen administrative support outsourced to India, was also rejected.

However GP leaders say that the new competitive tender does not preclude the SSCL winning the contract, and that it seemed likely that any private operator would outsource to cut costs.

Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMC and chair of the GPC’s contracts and regulation subcommittee, told Pulse that previous experiences of GP payments being outsourced to Shared Business Services did not bode well for the transfer of PCS services.

Dr Morley told Pulse: ‘The portents are absolutely horrendous for general practice I’m afraid, I don’t want to be a Casandra or a shroud waver, but we’ve been proved right over payments, there’s nothing at all that reassures me this isn’t going to be an absolute bloody disaster.’

He added: ‘Clearly they are giving it out to a competitive commercial procurement, IE a privatisation of these services.’

‘Whether it ends up being awarded to SSCL at the end of the day or gets awarded to [anyone else] it’s going to be an absolute disaster for the patients who need primary care services, not just general practice.’

And Dr Morley also said that losing the institutional knowledge of the current primary care support staff would compound the problem.

‘All the long standing staff who’ve been in place, who at least know something about how primary care works and the NHS works, have either already left or are being organised out of the organisation.’

NHS England’s national director for transformation and corporate operations, Karen Wheeler, praised the support staff but said finding an ‘in-house’ solution had not been possible.

Ms Wheeler said: ‘NHS England is committed to cutting administrative costs for all services, and these changes will benefit patients and the taxpayer by freeing up more money for care.’

‘We have a skilled and committed set of staff delivering these services already and have put considerable effort into designing a viable in-house solution.’

‘Unfortunately, it has not been possible to design a solution which made the required level of efficiencies. We know this is a difficult time for PCS staff and we are committed to ensuring that any transfer process for relevant staff is a smooth as possible.’

Readers' comments (15)

  • An in house solution would have been possible if they bothered to consult with the people that actually know anything about PCS.

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  • Vinci Ho

    The cheaper the better , typically.
    Question is will the money saved actually go back to care?? Seriously??

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  • A chance for the BMA to put words into action

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  • 'Question is will the money saved actually go back to care?? '

    Hell no, it goes to continue employing Karen Wheeler and pay her bonus.

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  • There is the "mystic belief" that private=people like Richard Branson with almost supernatural powers of ability.
    NHS England have no understanding of the private sector.

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  • is there no end to the blind bigotry of outsourcing to private concerns?it will..
    not save money as money will need to be found for the executive parasites bonuses and for shareholders,they will blow to the four winds experienced staff and employ inadequately trained inexperienced staff paid minimum wage to make the short term savings (as claimed in glossy brochures of lies called advertising or public relations)....at the expense of long term efficiency and quality.
    look at the contrast between nhs direct and nhs111 to see exactly the same disastrously misguided mistakw to be made yet again by nhse..either they are incredible morons or salivating at bonuses..or both.

    look at recent study showing much of increased aed attendance recently is due to nhs111 and its unskilled triage...the govt. claimed it was due to gp contract chane TEN! years ago..absolute bare faced lying and buck passing by govt. for their culpable incompetence .
    nhse is an unfit for purpose quango that should be disbanded before ir completes its mission to destroy the nhs by yet more amazingly misguided 'de-forms'..........to call this insanity reform does the english language injustice.
    RESIGN the whole lot

    i am sad to admit i voted conservative in the past but the unacceptable culpable and possibly corrupt changes to nhs in this govt. is frankly evil...i sincerely hope they will atone on future..but i for one will never vote for them again till long after this universe ends.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Those with no morality and virtue holding high positions in a hierarchy spread evils through the most .
    That applies to ALL parties.
    I would rather cast a blank vote than for any of these culprits and bullies.

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  • Utter stupidity! I honestly don't think NHS England have any idea what PCS actually do. PCS is an amalgam of support services essential to the effective functioning of primary care and public health. It is a collection of services developed over years with knowledgable experience people with local know how running the services. to think a one size fits all procurement exercise is going to provide an adequate service is a falacy. I doubt most private providers would even be able to define what PCS is! Unlike SBS, PCS has responsibility for clinical services. If this goes ahead and it becomes an unmitigating disaster like NHS 111 and other private procurement exercises there is a serious risk of patient safety concerns. this should DEFINITELY NOT GO AHEAD. The GPC and RCGP should highlight the potential safety concerns ASAP.

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  • One of the problems with this system is the procurement document and contract has to include, very specifically, what is requires. Every time this happens there are always gaps in the document. Things NHS departments will pick up out of their sense of responsibility, but private companies decline because it is not what they were asked to do.

    I can see it now - NHSE declining to do something because ti has been outsourced and the private provider declining because it is not in their contract.

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  • Going to hell in a handbasket!

    Eventually NHS Procurement of 'everything', primary, community, secondary and tertiary care.

    The providers offering the lowest cost to the Treasury (taking lobbying into account) win the contracts.

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