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October 29, 2012 9:40 pm
Hopes of a big role for private companies in resolving the problems of a debt-laden South London hospital trust have been dashed, sparking claims that the row over National Health Service reforms has left politicians wary of involving the private sector.
South London Healthcare NHS trust became the first institution to be put into administration in June, after ministers said the costs of a private finance initiative were partly to blame for a deficit expected to hit £207m by next March.
On Monday a report led by Matthew Kershaw, administrator, said the department of health should should write off that debt and provide additional funds to the local NHS to cover the excess costs of the PFI buildings at the trust’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Princess Royal University Hospital.
The third, Queen Mary’s hospital in Sidcup, should be developed into a campus on which services would be provided by “a range of organisations”, offering a potential opportunity for the private sector to deliver day surgery on the site. Although the running of Princess Royal might also be put out to tender, the lengthy procurement process meant another NHS provider, King’s College hospital, was more likely to acquire it, said Jane Fryer, medical director for southeast London NHS.
The development came as the Financial Times learnt that the private sector had been excluded from the chance to bid for a £60m contract to provide community services in Milton Keynes.
The primary care trust was initially thought to be willing to consider bids from the private sector, before deciding that it would look only at other NHS providers.
Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire NHS said “extensive discussion” with the local council, the strategic health authority and the department of health had concluded “the best local solution” for Milton Keynes was a local NHS trust.
David Worskett, director of NHS Partners Network, which represents private and third sector providers, said he believed that “political nervousness” had prevented an open procurement process for the contract.
He said: “NHS community services are about to have to take on a huge additional role as care is moved out of hospitals on both clinical and financial grounds.”
If that strategy was to succeed, he said the NHS needed to use open procurement as much as possible “in order to bring in additional skills, finance and innovation, without which the strategy will largely fail”, adding that a “similarly cautious approach” appeared to have prevailed in relation to South London hospitals.
Monitor, the sector regulator, is due to receive new powers to enforce competition, but these are still going through parliament. The department is thought to be keen to avoid fresh controversy until they are on the statute book.
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