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PCT attacked for 'wasteful' social enterprise plans

By Lilian Anekwe

Plans by a London Primary Care Trust to set up a social enterprise to provide NHS primary care services have been attacked by the UK's largest trade union.

Unite the union has condemned NHS Kingston's plan to ‘hive off NHS services into a social enterprise', which it says could waste £600,000 that the Trust desperately needs to save to reinvest in frontline services.

The union claims the money - £4 a head for Kingston's population of 150,000 – to set up the social enterprise could be better spent on services, such as speech and language therapists, health visitors, physiotherapists, and community nurses.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveals NHS Kingston spent £181,000 in 2008/2009 on becoming ‘an autonomous provider' and a ‘business ready' organisation.

£18,000 has already been spent on ‘marketing and branding' for the proposed social enterprise, which will be a commercial organisation, able to bid for contracts to provide primary care services to the NHS.

A further £79,000 has been earmarked for ‘externalisation of provider services' in 2009/10 and if the social enterprise is not eligible for VAT refunds for the purchase of goods and services, the additional cost will be £300,000.

Unite says the decision to create a social enterprise to bid for primary care contracts flies in the face of recent ministerial pledges that the NHS will remain the ‘preferred provider' of NHS services.

Karen Reay, Unite's national officer for health, said: ‘Given the relatively small population of Kingston, the sums that the PCT is spending on promoting the market dogma of the social enterprise is staggering. We estimate that possible expenditure is £578,000 – and still rising.

‘Money that could be going on services is being spent on management consultants and the bureaucracy to create the structures for the social enterprise.

‘We have repeatedly asked the PCT management to hold a ballot of staff on all the options for the future, but they have adamantly refused to go down the democratic route.'

Unite is concerned that social enterprises will fragment services and threaten ‘the ethos of a NHS providing a unified, joined-up service for patients.'

But a spokeperson for NHS Kingston defended its plans, and said the expenditure figures had been taken 'out of context'.

'We are disappointed that Unite continue to misrepresent this positive development for Kingston residents. The social enterprise is being established to benefit the local community in receipt of healthcare services. This innovative development does not contravene Andy Burnham's recent policy announcement.

'An independent review showed that a social enterprise was the most effective way to deliver high quality and better value health services for people in Kingston and five year financial modelling shows our plans are robust.'

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