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Derbyshire primary care trust “failed to consult” over contract

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7552.1233-c (Published 25 May 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:1233
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    A High Court judge in London is expected to rule soon on a legal challenge to a primary care trust's decision to allow a US based healthcare company to take over the provision of GP services in a deprived ex-mining community in Derbyshire.


    Embedded Image

    The judge's decision over Langwith surgery (above) will have implications for plans to open up the NHS to alternative providers

    Credit: ALEX NUNNS

    The contract for primary care services at Cresswell and Langwith is one of the first to be tendered for under government plans to open healthcare services to the market.

    North Eastern Derbyshire Primary Care NHS Trust declared UnitedHealth Europe, part of the giant US United-Health Group, to be the “preferred provider” for the services last December. But the contract was put on hold after a local parish councillor, Pam Smith, won permission to mount an application for judicial review (BMJ 2006;332: 1172-3, 20 May).

    Mr Justice Collins reserved his judgment after hearing the case last week. If the application succeeds, the tendering process may have to be reopened.

    The judgment will have important implications for the government's policy of opening up the NHS to alternative providers. The Department of Health regards the case as so important that it intervened to present its own arguments to the court.

    The case is the first to test the meaning of section 11 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001, which covers the duty to involve and consult patients and the public in service planning and provision and the development of changes. The judgment should clarify the extent to which managers will have to involve the public in decisions about changing healthcare providers.

    Langwith's local council, Scarcliffe Parish Council, had backed a proposal by a local GP, Elizabeth Barrett, to open a new practice with a multidisciplinary team and offered her land at a peppercorn rent. But her plans never even made the trust's shortlist.

    At the High Court last week Eleanor Grey, counsel for Ms Smith, told the judge that the lack of consultation with local people contradicted government promises that NHS patients and the public would be “listened to, rather than talked at.”

    She said the failure to consult was a breach of section 11 and ignored NHS guidance stating that the involvement of patients and the public in health service decision making was “a priority.”

    For the trust, David Pittaway QC argued that there was no legal duty to consult under section 11, because there was to be no change in the services provided, only in the provider. Even if there were an obligation to consult, he added, the trust had satisfied the obligation by appointing the chairman of a local patients' participation group to the panel that awarded the contract.

    Footnotes

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