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'Poor value' ISTC programme scaled back

The Government has announced a substantial scaling down of its controversial independent sector treatment centre (ISTC) scheme after admitting that the private provider centres were not providing value for money.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced that six ‘third wave' ISTC contracts will be shelved on the grounds that they fail to provide ‘acceptable value for money' in comparison to local NHS services.

The Government is also recommending the termination of Care UK's contract for the provision of diagnostic services in the West Midlands due to ‘an unacceptably low rate of use'.

Although Mr Johnson did announce that some ISTC contracts would still go ahead, the withdrawal is being viewed as a significant retreat from the private sector, and is likely to cost the Government millions of pounds in compensation.

The centres were first proposed as part of the 2002 reforms of the NHS to provide mostly elective care, and were designed to tackle waiting lists, increase capacity in the NHS, and give patients more choice in where they were treated.

However, they have proven massively unpopular with GPs, many of whom feel the blocked contracts which guaranteed work for the centres were at odds with Government plans to shift more hospital services into primary care and devolve commissioning to local clinicians.

Dr Mohammed Jiva, a GP in Middleton and a local PBC chair, said the nearby ISTC in Trafford, Greater Manchster had ‘fragmented the relationship' between GPs and acute trusts.

He said: ‘Had the DH not commissioned a service until 2010 and devolved the budget to Practice Based Commissioners, there would have been no need to send simple procedures all the way to Trafford.'

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA's Consultants Committee, welcomed the turnaround, but said it was a ‘crying shame that so much money has been wasted'.

Dr James Kingsland, chair of the NAPC, said: ‘ISTCs were always a short term fix.

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