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Majority of £1.5bn NHS contracts go to private providers, study finds

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f4476 (Published 10 July 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f4476
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. 1BMJ

The private sector is in line to secure hundreds of millions in NHS funding from services placed out to the open market under the UK government’s latest competition regulations, a study has shown.

Research by the independent pressure group the NHS Support Federation found that contracts for around 100 NHS clinical services totalling almost £1.5bn (€1.7bn; $2.2bn) have been advertised since 1 April 2013, with commercial companies winning the lion’s share of those awarded to date.1

Data from official tenders websites showed that only two of 16 contracts awarded since the government’s section 75 regulations of the Health and Social Care Act came into force have gone to NHS providers, with the remaining 14 going to the private sector.

The regulations, which require large sections of the NHS to be tendered to the open market, were the subject of much opposition from doctors and campaigners—who warned that they would lead to widespread privatisation and fragmentation of the NHS2—but were eventually passed after a bid to overturn them in the House of Lords was rejected.3

The report found that the biggest contract awarded since the regulations were enacted was a £50m deal to private sector providers in Exeter to run ambulance services. One of the two contracts secured by the NHS was won by the Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust for a £30m package of community services. Other contracts awarded include deals to run out of hours services, community health, and diagnostics.

The largest contract notice advertised to date is offering one provider £800m over five years to run community services in Cambridgeshire.

Paul Evans, director of the NHS Support Federation, said, “Far more NHS treatment is being purchased through the market, billions of pounds of public money is up for grabs. Some will go to the NHS, but from this analysis it looks like the lion’s share could be secured by the private sector.

“The impact of the controversial NHS changes is beginning to bite. Many parts of the NHS could lose out on funding as eager commercial companies take advantage of this golden opportunity to get a slice of the NHS budget. It is hard to see how we will manage to keep the principles of the NHS intact.”

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f4476

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