Revealed: NHS secretly wooed private firms over polyclinics

Posted on October 7, 2009. Filed under: GP-led health centres, News stories, Polyclinics, Providers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Pulse | By Steve Nowottny | 7 October 2009

Exclusive: The NHS secretly courted private companies at a series of high-level meetings to encourage them to compete for the new wave of polyclinics and GP-led health centres, Pulse can reveal.

Directors, chief executives and other senior figures from a who’s who of private health providers were invited to regular off-the-record briefings, held every six weeks, to get their advice on tendering and procurement of GP-led health centres and London’s polyclinics.

Details of the meetings, at which no minutes were taken, emerged only this week after Pulse successfully won a nine-month appeal under the Freedom of Information Act.

Attendees included Atos Consulting, Assura Group, Care UK and Alliance Boots (see below).

The last in the series of meetings, which were hosted by NHS London and designed to reassure the private sector about the Government’s commitment to opening up the market, was attended by then-health minister Lord Darzi, as well as UBS Bank, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Dr David Bennett, whose former roles include head of policy at Number 10 and at influential management consultancy McKinsey.

Companies invited to the meetings subsequently bid for and won contracts for dozens of GP-led health centres around the country and have been among those bidding for London’s centres, although NHS London is refusing to reveal how many they have won.

But a briefing prepared for Lord Darzi ahead of the last meeting on 19 August 2008 reveals: ‘This group of private sector CEOs and senior officials meets roughly every six weeks… to discuss concerns of the private sector market in general but specifically issues relating to London polyclinics and how London is handling GP-led health centres.

‘It is now a forum for the market to offer opinions and advice in the run-up to tendering and procurement of primary care services through both models.’

The briefing adds that one function of the meetings is to ensure the NHS is aware of the confidence required to ensure City backing for any ‘ventures’ in primary care.

‘Lord Darzi will be aware the City has grown deeply sceptical about markets in health given the reversal of much of the wave two independent sector treatment centre procurement,’ the report adds.

LMCs responded angrily to news of the meetings, pointing out that GPs had not been invited to similar meetings.

Dr Michelle Drage, joint chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, said: ‘We’ve had our suspicions but it confirms everything we thought must be going on. It stinks – it’s appalling.’

Dr Drage said Londonwide LMCs had found it impossible to organise meetings with NHS London at a similar level to the private sector briefings.

‘I’ve had one such meeting in the past year, with the chief executive,’ she said.

Dr Nigel Watson, chair of the GPC subcommittee on commissioning and service development, said: ‘To brief them like this is blatant and seems very strange when everyone is talking about level playing fields.’

And Dr Sally Whittet, a GP in Lambeth, south London, added: ‘This is wrong. It goes against my idea of the NHS.’

However a Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘The accusation that private companies were ‘secret wooed’ is simply untrue. We have repeatedly made clear that in setting up GP health centres PCTs are expected to carry out an open and transparent procurement to ensure the fullest range of providers can bid including existing GP practices, voluntary and independent sector providers.’

He added: ‘Lord Darzi spent a year working on his review of the NHS and engaged with over 60,000 people – the majority of whom were frontline NHS staff, patients and members of the public. However, given their interests in the future direction of the NHS this also included private sector healthcare providers.

COMPANIES REPRESENTED AT THE MEETINGS

• Alliance Boots
• Atos Consulting 
• Assura Group 
• Ashley House 
• Care UK
• General Healthcare Group 
• HCA International 
• Nuffield Hospitals 
• PWC 
• UBS

The documents that revealed secret meetings between NHS and private sector

Pulse reveals today details of a series of high-level meetings held last year between senior figures in the NHS and leading private sector companies last year.

Read the Department of Health’s final response to Pulse here.

Read the briefing note prepared for Lord Darzi ahead of the meeting on 19 August 2008 here.

Read the full list of meeting attendees here.

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