After Cambridgeshire’s NHS deal collapses, the future of Staffordshire’s similar £1.2billion sell-off is mired in confusion

Cambridge’s ‘UnitingCare’ deal and its advisors have been discredited, and NHS England promises to investigate a similar planned huge NHS sell-off in Staffordshire - but local bosses seem to have their heads in the sand.

Gail Gregory
4 August 2016
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Image: Cancer Not For Profit

The last few weeks have been turbulent for the controversial Staffordshire £1.2bn Cancer and End of Life Care contracts, as parallel experiments elsewhere have been revealed to be total failures.

In February this year, the Staffordshire sell-off was put on hold, after a similar procurement in Cambridgeshire collapsed after just 8 months.

Last month the long-awaited National Audit Office (NAO) Report was released. It looked at why the  £800 million contract for older people’s healthcare in Cambridgeshire had collapsed, and highlighted the deal’s loss of accountability, poor financial viability and unreliability of data.

So where does that leave Staffordshire?

Staffordshire campaigners have long questioned their own contract on just these grounds.

It’s no surprise the multiple problems are mirrored. Both the Cambridgeshire and Staffordshire projects two projects had the same advisors at their formative stages – the NHS’s own privatisation unit, the Strategic Projects Team (SPT).

The SPT’s role overseeing the Cambridgeshire project was such a fiasco, that just a week after the NAO report, NHS England announced it had lost confidence in them and that it was disbanding the whole SPT team altogether, admitting there were ‘real concerns’.

Staffordshire campaigners Cancer Not For Profit (CNFP) have already collected over 80,000 signatures (including 65,000 online) in protest against the Staffordshire contract. There are widespread fears that decisions to date are unreliable.

The process is so riddled with risk it is surely now time to scrap the whole thing before it’s too late.

Should the contract proceed, it seems likely that similar issues would shortly come to light. Additionally, the data on which the contracts were based is now over 4 years old. In our view, that alone means any decision to go ahead ought to be based on entirely fresh data gathering and systematic, meaningful consultation – which has not happened, despite the claims of local health bosses in the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to the contrary.

The Commissioners held their AGM last week. Questions from the floor sought clarification over the way forward but confusion increased when the CCG Chief Executive, Andrew Donald, seemed unaware of the planned “second stage” review into Cambridgeshire which NHS England has reportedly promised will look at Staffordshire and other contracts as well.

Donald said they were awaiting NHS England’s forthcoming “robust assurance framework” for future procurements before proceeding. He denied that any second review would take place. He also assured audience members that SPT had ceased to be project advisors some time ago.

CNFP has now written to Andrew Donald to ask him who the new project advisors are. We also want to know why the CCG has no vision of what the successful Business Plan should look like and is leaving that to the winning bidder to draw up.

We are asking just what would happen if the contract should collapse after the 18 month hand over period, when all decision-making would rest with the bidder and none with any regulatory body.

One of the key messages of the NAO report was that ‘Without closer joint working or a more holistic view, there are significant risks for the commissioning and providing sectors that individual oversight body decisions will not lead to the best outcomes for patients or for the system as a whole.’

In Staffordshire we appear to have a CCG which has no idea how to improve clinical and managerial outcomes and is waiting for a private provider with highly-vested interests to tell them the answer. That is a recipe for disaster.

Together with the unreliable and outdated base data, the lack of public consultation and the rigid focus on the bottom line figure above all else (with no money allocated to address a projected 10% increase in demand over the course of the contract), this contract has all the hallmarks of the next big failure.  

If NHS England really wants to learn from the termination of the UnitingCare (and other) contracts, it must acknowledge that public services and private profit do not go together and campaign for appropriate funding of our NHS.

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