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DH-backed savings drive urges GPs to outsource back-office functions to India

By Ian Quinn

Exclusive: GP consortia have been told they can help save the NHS billions by outsourcing up to half their back-office functions to India, under a deal being lined up by a new Government-backed savings drive.

NHS Shared Business Services, a joint venture between the Department of Health and private firm Steria, is set to start negotiations with GP pathfinder commissioning groups in a bid to secure deals which would see a vast range of services - including payroll, human resources, finance and potentially patient appointment booking systems - outsourced, many of them to Asia.

The venture already has deals with around 50 PCTs and is close to signing a major procurement deal with many more trusts, providing the platform for a huge new savings initiative across the NHS, aimed at rationalising spending on resources from HR to medial equipment and able to pinpoint spending to individual GP level.

John Neilson, managing director of NHS Shared Business Services, said the venture has already slashed £50m in NHS spending since its launch in 2005 and is already on course to save £250m by 2014.

He said its resources dwarfed those of existing LMC buying groups and that GP consortia would be approached with guaranteed offers of saving around 20-30% of the management costs they inherit from PCTs under the Government's commissioning plans.

NHS Shared Business Services currently employs just over half of its staff, or 1,300 people, in India, running finance and payroll services. But Mr Neilson told GPs that some services in the future could be '80-90% offshore'.

He said the venture was already in advanced talks with the Department of Health and hospital trusts about expanding its offering, with GP consortia next on the list of potential clients.

A deal to be announced in January is expected to see dozens more PCTs go into partnership in a procurement drive which Mr Neilson said could see savings ‘running into billions'.

PCTs across London are among those in close talks with the organisation, he said, adding it was also seeking to line up deals with private health providers to provide GPs with even broader packages to help them make savings.

‘We will be working with clinicians in hospitals and GPs to say the key to making savings is to rationalise the products we're providing,' he said.

‘Were very close to completing the signing of a large number of additional trusts.'

Mr Neilson said while it was still unclear exactly what management functions GP consortia would have to take on, they would have to find huge savings to meet the Government's £20bn savings target by 2014, confirming that the venture would be interested in enabling GP consortia to outsource appointment booking systems.

‘Things such as appointment booking services would be an obvious sort of areas that could be commissioned on a collective basis and certainly we would have the expertise,' he said, adding:

‘They [GPs] are not going to be able to manage £70bn of NHS funds on an Excel spreadsheet and somebody's old practice computer.'

GP consortia could save the NHS millions by outsourcing back-office functions such as accounting to India, NHS Shared Business Services claim GP consortia could save the NHS millions by outsourcing back-office functions such as accounting to India, NHS Shared Business Services claim