By Yvette Martyn
A PCT has announced plans to farm out 10 GP practices under a new wave of APMS tenders, in a move raising questions over the Government's new-found commitment to ensure the NHS is the ‘preferred provider'.
NHS South West Essex will tender the contracts for the practices, which it currently runs, over the next 18 months as part of the process of splitting commissioning and providing roles.
Private companies and social enterprises will be allowed to bid for the contracts, even though health secretary Andy Burnham recently said alternative providers should only be sought to run services as a last resort.
In a sign of the confusion within Government policy, the PCT said the tenders were going ahead to satisfy a parallel drive to ensure PCTs only managed practices directly for short periods or in emergencies.
The first phase of tenders will see three practices transferring management with contracts to be awarded in Autumn 2010 and the remaining seven tenders to follow.
The trust insisted the move would not affect the services available or put the jobs of staff at risk. It said patients would be involved in the process and invited to give feedback on the plans, with a representative having input in the selection process.
Marc Davis, director of primary care for NHS South West Essex, says: ‘There are no plans to close or move any of the 10 GP surgeries, or reduce the range of NHS services available. The practices will still be NHS services, but like most other practices they'll be managed by an independent contractor appointed by us.'
Dr Brian Balmer, chief executive of Essex LMCs, said: 'The PCT has encouraged the GPs to bid for them and we are hopeful current employees will have a fair chance of getting a contract. We have organised training for GPs and practice managers in tendering and winning tenders.'
The new wave of APMS tenders has raised fresh questions about the Government's commitment to the NHS's 'preferred provider' status The new wave of APMS tenders has raised fresh questions about the Government's commitment to the NHS's 'preferred provider' status