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Unison warns of ‘dangerous’ £1 billion NHS tender

Published on 04/07/14 at 07:04am
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A row is bubbling over the provision of health services in Staffordshire after a trade union accused four NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and NHS England of conducting a ‘dangerous experiment’.

Unison, which represents hospital staff, has said that a £1 billion tender for a lead organisation to take on cancer care in the region is in effect being conducted ‘behind closed doors’.

“This is by far the biggest procurement process in the NHS and is a dangerous experiment,” says Christina McAnea, Unison head of health. “We are talking about £1 billion of taxpayers’ money and contracts lasting 10 years in vital cancer services and end of life care.”

Patients, the public and staff ‘have a right to see’ all relevant documents about the business case and strategy behind the decision to outsource these services, she went on.

But the CCGs involved - Cannock Chase, North Staffordshire, Stafford and Surrounds and Stoke on Trent - have insisted that the process will follow standard NHS England and European Union rules for procurement in the public sector.

Andrew Donald, accountable officer for Cannock Chase and Stafford and Surrounds CCGs, said: “Rather than have several organisations each commissioning individual services on individual contracts, we are bringing this all together and plan to appoint one lead organisation or consortia to be the prime provider responsible for co-ordinating cancer care in new ways, to improve outcomes and meet patients expectations.”

However, in a letter to the CCGs involved, McAnea accuses them of “potentially handing over all decision-making on these crucial services to private companies”.

“This is much bigger than just asking private companies to provide a service, this is asking them to design the whole system. With profit as the main driving force, how can it not lead to problems?” she asks.

Patients and NHS employees need to be involved in shaping the future of these services, “which we believe should be kept firmly within the NHS”, McAnea adds.

The CCGs insist that better care is at the heart of the move, with patients telling them cancer care can be improved by making it ‘more joined up and seamless’.

“The vast majority of local people are happy with the excellent care they receive from their individual doctors, nurses, consultants and specialists but they complain about getting lost in the system, having to repeat themselves all the time, and care not always factoring in their personal circumstances,” Donald insists.

The CCGs say they have the support of Macmillan Cancer Support, Staffordshire County Council, Stoke on Trent City Council and Public Health England.

Adam Hill

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