Private providers have been given the chance to bid for thousands of NHS services for the first time due to new European Union competition rules.
While the recent Brexit decision has been largely condemned by health service sources, it could be suggested that this is the sort of decision which demonstrates that Brexit may not be all bad for the NHS.
NHS England has published “prior information notices” for its specialised services contracts in the Official Journal of the European Union this month, in line with new EU regulations introduced in April.
The notices say NHS England’s buying department is “looking for potential suppliers” to contact them with bid applications.
This national body is responsible for commissioning about £15 billion worth of specialised services, and has created 278 contract “lots”, which encompass suites of services to be provided in specific geographies.
The public notices signal an intent to award whole contracts for 2017-19 to the incumbent providers, unless expressions of interest are received from alternative operators, triggering a competitive process.
Expressions of interest must be received within 21 days of 14th October, when the notice was initially published.
A private sector source, who asked not to be named, said non-NHS providers “already do more specialised work than is sometimes acknowledged”, often in partnership with an NHS trust.
But they added that “the tight timetable does make it difficult to forge the partnerships that might be needed. There may still be interest but it’ll be at the margins.”
Services such as specialised cancer, diagnostics, cardiac and renal care may be targeted as these are already contracted to private providers in some areas.
In a note sent to providers of specialised services earlier this month, NHS England noted that the arrangement is very much a new initiative.
“This will be the first time the new rules have applied to the contracting round for NHS specialised services. The regulations set out a new light touch regime, which allows commissioners flexibility to design an appropriate, proportionate process.”
This means the contracts must be publicly advertised where they are worth more than €750,000, the process must be transparent and bidders treated equally, and the criteria must not artificially constrain competition or specify organisational form, among other conditions.
The note also outlined more information about the prior information notice.
“The prior information notice will also include notice of our intent to explore the opportunities for longer than two year contracts where this affords opportunities for significant improvements in service quality and efficiency facilitated by using the NHS standard contract option to extend term for up to two years.”
Commenting on the issue, an NHS England spokeswoman outlined the advantages of this approach.
“Setting out our contracts for existing services in this way enhances transparency and provides an opportunity to ensure the NHS and our patients are getting the best value and quality of care.”
Jeremy Hunt recently stated that the NHS in England will become “self sufficient” in doctors after Brexit.
The Virgin Care group has landed a major £700 million NHS contract, which will enable them to coordinate over 200 healthcare services in Bath and North East Somerset.
According to NHS Bath and North East Somerset CCG, the deal will enable healthcare coordination to be strengthened in the region.
The CCTV had received numerous complaints from people who believe that the existing healthcare system is confusing to navigate.
Having agreed the deal, Virgin Care has announced that the contract will run for seven years, with the option to extend it for a further three-year period.
The CCG and the local council stated that this is in line with their current spending on community services.
This huge deal has resulted from a two-year engagement and consultation program, during which local staff and residents were enlisted to provide their views.
Dr Ian Orpen, clinical chair of the CCG, indeed indicated that this deal had been instigated based on the opinions of the local community.
“We have listened carefully to what local people had to say and we have a very good understanding of the improvements they would like to see. Virgin Care’s proposal means that services can be better co-ordinated and people will be supported to access all the services that can help them improve their health and wellbeing.”
Fifty community champions and subject matter experts were recruited in order to identify the priorities for healthcare in the region, and this group was also tasked with evaluating Virgin and its contender, Sirona Care & Health.
Cllr Vic Pritchard, cabinet member for adult social care and health at the Bath & North East Somerset Council, believes that the process which led to the involvement of the Virgin Care in the meeting had been transparent and cohesive.
Prichard is optimistic about the positive influence that Virgin Care can have on healthcare in the region.
“People told us they want more care delivered closer to home so services will be organised around GP practices providing access to a wider range of health and care professionals in people’s communities. They also asked us to join up services and information so that it’s easier for different professionals to work together to coordinate care. Virgin Care will enable this to happen by bringing people’s health and care records into one secure place.”
The CCG believes that opting for Virgin Care involvement will make it easier for the organisation to offer a variety of healthcare professionals, able to work together more closely and deliver better outcomes for patients.
It has also been announced that the council and the CCG will also include a clause in the contract which requires any financial surplus made by Virgin to be reinvested into services in the region.