This site is intended for health professionals only

Local council fights GPs’ corner in contract row with PCT

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: Local authorities have weighed in with support for a group of GPs who have accused their PCT of attempting to railroad plans to draft in private providers to run a local practice without consultation.

The intervention came after GPs moved to appeal against NHS Mid Essex's decision to press ahead with an APMS tendering process for The New Surgery in South Woodham without seeking the views of either patients or local clinicians.

The case follows the precedent set in North London last November, when Pulse revealed that NHS Camden was forced to shelve plans to award a Darzi centre contract to a private firm after admitting it acted unlawfully by ‘making a decision to invest' in without conducting a full public consultation on the proposal.

NHS Mid Essex told GPs it did not consider patient and public consultation to be necessary prior to procurement, because the process ‘does not involve any new services, service change or substantial development'.

But South Woodham Ferrers Town Council has subsequently written to the trust to demand an explanation, expressing its ‘serious concern' about the process.

The letter reads: ‘Section 242 of the NHS Act requires such arrangements are to be made which secure that users of services such as The New Surgery, whether directly or through representatives, are involved in: the planning of the provision of these services, the development and consideration of proposals for changes in the way the services are provided, and decisions affecting operation of those services.'

‘Surely change of ownership and management is a decision which affects the operation of such a service?'

A survey of 200 patients carried out by local GPs found that none of the residents were in favour of a private firm being drafted in to run the service, with 197 backing the establishment of a John Lewis-style of management where local GPs would run the practice ‘by the town, for the town'.

Dr John Cormack, a GP at the Greenwood surgery, which carried out the survey, said: ‘We are asking the PCT to consult before imposing its ideas on the residents of South Woodham Ferrers who, when given the opportunity to express a view, have given them the thumbs down. It's clear that there has not been any meaningful consultation until now.

He added: ‘There appears to be a precedent with Camden. They were told to go back to the drawing board, that's what I hope they will do here.'

Dr Andrew Hildrey, cinical chair of Primary Care at NHS Mid Essex said: 'In line with the NHS Procurement Guide for Health Services, the PCT has followed an open market tendering process. The views of patients are very important to the PCT and a patient representative from the New Surgery practice was fully involved in the evaluation of short-listed bids and attended interviews. This provided an invaluable patient perspective and enabled patients' requirements, including the bidders approach to patient involvement at the surgery, to be assessed as part of the evaluation process.

'The PCT is fully aware of and complies with its duty to involve patients in the planning of any new or significantly changed services. In this case no changes were planned to the provision of services or the way in which they were provided. The services will remain the same and the staff delivering the services, clinical and administrative (including practice management) will remain the same.'

Dr John Cormack