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Poor value private firms abandoned

The Government has announced a substantial scaling down of its controversial independent sector treatment centre (ISTC) programme after admitting many private providers were not giving value for money.

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

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

Although Mr Johnson announced some ISTC contracts would still go ahead, the withdrawal is being viewed as a significant retreat from the use of the private sector, and is set 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.

But they have proven massively unpopular with GPs, many of whom felt blocked contracts guaranteeing work for the centres were at odds with plans to shift hospital services into primary care and devolve commissioning to local doctors.

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

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

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