By Lilian Anekwe
NHS managers have saddled GP commissioners with a 30-year contract with a private firm after controversially paying it more than £8m for a building it owned - and then leasing it straight back.
News of the deal comes as primary care tsar Dr David Colin Thome told Pulse GPs would be responsible for sorting through and where possible renegotiating contracts when they take over the majority of PCT budgets under the Government's planned reforms.
NHS Derbyshire County has negotiated a new deal on a paid-per-patient basis with Care UK to run an independent sector treatment centre - the Barlborough Treatment Centre in Chesterfield - after the original five-year block contract expired.
The Barlborough Treatment Centre opened in 2005 and was paid £21.9m to perform only £15.1m-worth of orthopaedic surgery on patients in south Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.
NHS Derbyshire County has now paid Care UK £8.2m under a previously agreed deal to purchase the premises, and has signed a new 30-year deal to lease the premises back to the company.
Once GPs take over local commissioning, they will inherit the contract and will not be able to terminate Care UK's lease.
It is the latest in a series of cases where the NHS has paid out large sums under the terms of contracts with private firms, including NHS London's £10m payout to suspend a contract with Clinicenta after ‘significant clinical failings'.
A Care UK spokesperson argued that the purchase of the premises was part of a contractual agreement under which the company had taken on the cost of building it: 'At the time of bidding for the original contract in 2005, a requirement was that the successful bidder would build and equip a new hospital at their own cost, which Care UK did. It was also a contractual requirement that the ownership of the hospital would pass to the NHS at the end of the five-year contract in return for £8m, a sum which was agreed with the Department of Health before the contract started. The original five year contract expired earlier this year - it was not ended by the PCT.'
The spokesperson said the centre had dramatically reduced waiting times: ‘In 2003/4, before Barlborough opened, over 55% of local patients were waiting over 12 weeks for orthopaedic treatment, and 25% more than 20 weeks. The lease arrangement is simply that. It does not give Care UK any guarantees of patient volumes.'
NHS Derbyshire County confirmed when GPs assumed commissioning responsibility in 2012/3 they would ‘need to honour the agreed lease': ‘The GP consortium will benefit from a long-term source of income, while patients will benefit from Care UK providing NHS treatments at Barlborough.'
Paul Carney, assistant director of commissioning at NHS Derbyshire County, insisted the 30-year deal ‘represents excellent value for money': ‘Barlborough has played an important role in keeping waiting times down. We're pleased to have played a role in securing its future.'
But Dr Peter Williams, chair of Derbyshire LMC and a GP in Bakewell, said: ‘My feeling is we should never have leased Barlborough Treatment centre - we should have invested in existing services. But the political drive was to do it and GP commissioners will be stuck with it.'PCT managers have signed a 30-year contract with Care UK for the Barlborough Treatment Centre PCT managers have signed a 30-year contract with Care UK for the Barlborough Treatment Centre