GPs have cried foul over moves by PCTs to hand almost £2m to an ambulance service to put it ‘in the best position' to bid for NHS 111 contracts, amid concerns smaller GP out-of-hours providers are being frozen out of the 111 rollout.
GP out-of-hours providers and LMC leaders claim West Midlands Ambulance Service has been handed ‘a huge advantage' in bidding for the region's 111 contract, after PCTs gave the ambulance service £1.9m in funding for its NHS Pathways Project.
The funding has enabled the ambulance service to install NHS Pathways triage software and set up a directory of services – two key components of NHS 111.
A business plan produced by the West Midlands Ambulance Service lists one of the objectives of the funding as to ‘ensure the trust is in the best position to bid for 111 when it becomes available'.
Dr Fay Wilson, medical director at the BADGER out-of-hours co-op in Birmingham, said: ‘The ambulance service has been given a £2m head start.
‘Unless you have NHS Pathways you won't be seen as a credible bidder. But you can't get NHS Pathways unless you have your staff trained, which costs a fortune.'
Dr Robert Morley, secretary of Birmingham LMC, said: ‘As a GP I'm a member of one of the coops I have to admit a conflict of interest but I'd say this area's GP co-ops would be excellent bidders for 111. It would be a shame if the playing field is tilted against them because of the money the ambulance service has been given for NHS Pathways.'
‘The LMC's view is that NHS 111 is a dangerous nonsense that should be scrapped, or at least put on hold. The pilots haven't been evaluated and all sorts of problems have been creeping out of the woodwork.'
A spokesperson for West Midlands Ambulance Service said: ‘The funding (£1.9m) for this project was provided by West Midlands commissioners through the Commissioning for Quality and Innovation (CQUIN). We intend to submit a bid for the 111 service.'
Dr Peter Holden, GPC negotiator and a GP in Matlock, Derbyshire, said the procurement rules around NHS 111 risked ‘killing' successful small GP-led co-ops due to the ‘financial clout' demanded of bidders.
‘What you're doing is killing those organisations that have already got a proven track record because of a cash issue which is mad,' he said.