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Private bidder calls for delay in rollout of NHS 111 due to ‘significant risks’

A leading private firm has urged the Government to delay the rollout of NHS 111 to mitigate ‘significant risks' with the current tender process, as it withdrew its bid to run the service.

Capita told Pulse it had withdrawn from the bidding process for the new integrated service, as the current tender specifications were not ‘cost-effective'.

It comes as two other private companies confirmed they would not be bidding to run the Government's new out-of-hours urgent care line.

Fellow private firm Serco has confirmed that it would not be bidding to run the service ‘for internal reasons', while Care UK said it too was not bidding for any contracts at present.

Capita told Pulse they were particularly concerned that the current specification for the service, due to replace NHS Direct nationally from April 2013, did not allow for online interaction. It said delaying the rollout of the service ‘would allow many of these risks to be mitigated'.

It came as a letter to commissioners from Jim Easton, DH national director for improvement and efficiency, and David Flory, deputy NHS chief executive, warned it was ‘imperative' that commissioners followed Cabinet Office guidelines and ensured the majority of NHS Direct staff transferred to the new service, or face having national funding for the service withheld.

The Government continues to come under pressure from the BMA to delay the rollout of 111, with last month's LMCs conference raising 'serious concerns' that rushing to implement the service by April 2013 risked compromising patient safety, and piling additional work on GPs.

Dr Peter Holden, GPC negotiator, said he believed that: ‘The majority of bidders for 111 see it as a money making operation.'

A spokesperson for Capita said: ‘Capita has withdrawn from all NHS 111 tender processes and notified commissioners of this directly.  We have no plans to participate in any future processes as a service provider.

‘Based on our experience of the current round of tendering processes we do believe that there are significant risks and we have communicated these to the Department of Health directly.  A delay in the roll out of the service would allow many of these risks to be mitigated.'

But they added: ‘It would not change our position with regard to running any of the services as we have withdrawn from all tendering processes.'

The spokesperson added that an online service ‘produces both a better customer experience and a cost-effective way of providing a service', adding: ‘While healthcare is different from other services we believe that patients, the whole NHS and taxpayers would benefit from an online NHS 111 service from the start.'

A spokesperson for Care UK said they were not currently bidding, but added: ‘We look forward to seeing more detail around any proposed changes, as we have already said we will continue to assess each tender on its own merits.'

But Mike Barradell-Smith, sales and marketing director of Harmoni, which has already been announced as preferred bidder for seven contracts across London, the South West and Suffolk, said: ‘We would expect to be a significant player in the 111 market. You need to have been in on the game relatively early to understand the complexities of doing 111.'

A DH spokesperson said there had been ‘no decision' on whether to delay the rollout. The spokesperson said: ‘The position still stands that we're considering the representations from the BMA and other groups.'

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