A GP practice in Lancashire could be taken over by a private provider despite concerns raised by staff and patients who feel they have not been sufficiently consulted.
Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB was inundated with letters from patients and staff last week after its decision to award SSP Health the APMS contract for Withnell Health Centre in Chorley.
The ICB said that due to the contract at the centre being an interim arrangement, the board had a duty to undertake an open procurement process ‘which allows for all interested providers to be fairly considered.’
But patients and staff, including Dr Ann Robinson, who has been a partner at the practice for the past 10 years, said the public was not properly consulted.
A protest was held outside the practice last week to demand the ICB reverts its decision and yesterday campaigning group Save Withnell Health Centre met with commissioners to raise their concerns about the takeover.
Dr Robinson told Pulse: ‘They met with 20 of us before a meeting of the board, and members of Chorley Council were there too as they also feel they have not been involved in the decision.
‘The ICB has been asking the wrong questions in this consultation process and they are going against their own priorities, they have not asked the patients what they wanted.
‘Some of their questions did not relate to a small business and this means that a small business can never win that contract again.’
Chorley Together PCN also sent a letter to the ICB saying they were not asked as part of the procurement process to provide any feedback on the centre and its services.
The letter said: ‘More importantly and somewhat alarmingly the patients of the practice were not given the opportunity as part of the procurement process to voice their views on the current service provided by Dr Robinson and her team.
‘As a purchaser of GP services, the PCN were of the view that the ICB were legally required to seek the views of patients at the practice on how any proposed changed would affect them.’
Kevin Lavery, chief executive of Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB, said that no contract had been signed yet and that further engagement could have made patients and staff more aware of the procurement process.
He said: ‘We met with a few representatives from the Withnell Health Centre campaign group this morning and we recognise their concerns.
‘The ICB has received a large number of letters, concerns and comments from staff, patients and residents. These are being actively processed but in the meantime, I want to reassure all involved that we are listening. We are taking the issue very seriously and the questions raised deserve full answers.
‘We had a duty to undertake an open, procurement process for the service provided at Withnell Health Centre. This allows for all interested providers to be fairly considered and it is part of our legal responsibility as an ICB in accordance with NHS and public procurement regulations.
‘Further engagement could have made patients and staff more aware of the procurement process and that it could result in a different organisation taking over the running of the GP practice and due to this, we’d like to apologise.
‘We are currently reviewing all the information from the procurement process and at this point have not signed a contract with a new provider. We hope to have this matter resolved within two to three weeks.
‘Going forward we’re committed to going above and beyond with our public engagement and would like to reassure our local population that securing high-quality services remains a priority for the ICB.’
Dr Robinson added: ‘We all know in what dire straits the NHS is at the moment and retention is one of the biggest issues – some of the staff at Withnell Health Centre has been there for the past 15 or 20 years, we have retained staff, and they are all going to go.’
SSP Health said it would retain the team, continue their good work and add to the services available to patients.
Their website says that drawing on years of NHS experience and feedback from GPs nationwide, SSP Health was created ‘to bring a new, innovative way to rescue practices from the brink of closure, retain valuable staff, and continue to provide local healthcare.’
Andy Scaife, SSP Health’s chief executive, told the Lancashire Telegraph: ‘We completely understand the concerns of all involved and we want to reassure both patients and staff of Withnell Health Centre that our primary focus is to ensure the practice continues to provide the same, or better, levels of patient care.
‘We are proud of our very loyal workforce, with many of our GPs, nurses and practice teams having remained with us for many years.’
In December 2021, Chorley and South Ribble CCG’s Primary Care Commissioning Committee made the decision to award a temporary contract to Dr Ann Robinson, ‘to ensure continuity of services for patients.’
The ICB said that all patients were sent a letter informing them that a temporary contract had been awarded and that there would be a process undertaken to identify a long-term provider.
Patients were also invited to submit their views via a patient survey and there was an approximate 11% response rate, with the ICB acknowledging that ‘more could have been done to keep patients informed.’
Meanwhile, GPs in London have again been asked to provide clinical cover during ambulance strikes, as the next walkout is due next week.