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Private companies 'should open books to public scrutiny' says NHS Alliance

By Gareth Iacobucci

The MPs' expenses scandal has been a 'scene-changer' in public trust and means all companies providing NHS services must publish their full financial accounts, according to the NHS Alliance.

Dr Michael Dixon, chair of NHS Alliance, has previously called for GP practices to publish their full financial accounts in Pulse magazine and the body is now calling for all providers of NHS services - including private companies - to move towards greater transparency.

It claims the move would demonstrate the health service is getting value for money and would expose providers who are ‘loss leading' in order to gain entry into the market, before later attempting to renegotiate contracts after realising they can't provide services at the cost they bid.

The Alliance said the proposal would also allow commissioners to establish whether hospitals are delivering more services to justify their rising costs, or whether they are simply being paid more because of payment by results.

The call follows an exclusive Pulse investigation earlier this year, which exposed the huge amounts of cash being paid to providers of Lord Darzi's GP-led health centres.

Although the investigation raised serious questions over the value and affordability of the publically-funded rollout, many PCTs have refused to reveal contractual information via Freedom of Information on the grounds that it would breach commercial confidentiality.

Pulse also revealed last month that the proportion of earnings GPs are investing back into their practices varies hugely even among practices in the same PCT.

Dr Dixon said the air of secrecy around funding had to be removed to make providers and commissioners more accountable to the public.

He said: ‘The issues over MPs expenses and bankers bonuses have changed the scene and the public want to know who is being paid for what – in public services that should be their right, especially at a time when we are looking at public ownership of banks and private ownership of some frontline NHS services.'

Dr Dixon added: ‘It is not unusual for bidders, after they are awarded the contract, to ask the commissioner for more money when they realise they cannot provide the service at the cost they tendered for. This is hardly fair to bona fide competitors. We need a system that exposes bidders who are loss leading and using other tactics to gain market entry.'

Dr Michael Dixon

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