In news that will provide ammunition to those who are critical of private sector involvement in the NHS, a private health company pocketed nearly £30 million of taxpayers’ cash before the NHS cut ties with the firm.
SSP Health had signed a three-year deal to manage 20 practices in Liverpool and Sefton, with the contract worth in excess of £26 million.
Already a Liverpool MP has criticised the size of the investment required, and indicated his opinion that the NHS should not have signed the deal in the first place.
Patients at SSP’s Princes Park Surgery in Toxteth were forced to queue in the street in the hope of getting an appointment.
And with time considered a premium in the health service, there were signs on consultation room doors indicating that each patient should only take 10 minutes of time for an appointment; a move that was considered insensitive by healthcare bosses.
Yet despite the large amount of money invested by the NHS, SSP failed to deliver a standard of service that lived up to the expectations of health service regulators
Four of SSP’s Merseyside surgeries were rated “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission, although two later improved.
It has been reported as well that there was an inordinately high proportion of complaints made against SSP, with many patients angry about their inability to acquire appointment times.
NHS bosses announced back in February that they would not renew SSP contracts to run 15 of its 20 Merseyside surgeries.
Meanwhile, the remaining five organisations – Everton, Marybone in the city centre, Netherley, Park View in Tuebrook and Stanley Medical Centre in Kirkdale – will remain under the remit of SSP while the NHS seeks alternative operators.
Commenting on at the issue, Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson suggested that not only was this deal far from cost-effective for the NHS, it also did not deliver the quality of patient care that NHS customers and taxpayers have come to expect.
“This is a very expensive way of running GP services. SSP used a lot of locums, which meant people weren’t seeing the same family doctor. Not only was SSP delivering poor quality patient care, it was also far more expensive. In my opinion, they shouldn’t have had this contract and it’s extremely disappointing NHS England took so long to take the action it is now taking.”
Defending the decision of the NHS to award the contract to SSP back in February 2013, Anthony Leo, director of commissioning for NHS England in Cheshire and Merseyside, suggested that the process which had led to the award had been sound and diligent.
“The submissions were reviewed by an expert panel, which included doctors, patient representatives and an independent external evaluator. The contract value agreed represented a saving for the NHS and covered all costs of providing the service, including salaries, over three years.”