The Independent London Newspaper
24th May 2017

Legal challenge over £50 million out-of-hours health contract

    Richard Stein is part of the team working on the appeal

    Published: 30 March, 2015
    By TOM FOOT

    CAMPAIGNERS who are fighting NHS privatisation have launched a legal challenge against the doctors’ group running the health service in north London.

    Camden Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) believes Camden and Islington’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is about to award a massive £50million contract to a private company without asking the public what they think.

    Backed by law firm Leigh Day & Co, the campaigners believe the CCG has failed to properly announce what it describes as major changes to the out-of-hours GP service and “111” health advice phone-line.

    They say the public should be consulted when tens of millions of pounds of NHS funding are being awarded to a profit-making firm.

    Camden KONP chairwoman Candy Udwin said: “They are putting the contract out to tender without asking the one-million patients who will rely on the service what they think about the proposal. We want them to listen to the public’s view that local services should be run by local doctors and that patients come before profits.”

    For the NHS campaigners there is a straightforward principle at stake but a judicial review court case, if accepted by senior judges in the High Court, will hinge on a technical detail in former Conservative health secretary Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act.

    Solicitor Richard Stein, a partner at Leigh Day & Co, said: “When CCGs were set up, the legislation said they had to publish what is essentially a list of what they would be commissioning for each year. We don’t believe this has been done in this case.”

    The CCG believes that by creating a single out-of-hours and 111 service contract for five boroughs – including Camden, Islington, Haringey, Barnet and Enfield – it will be making the service better for patients.

    KONP also says that creating such a big contract would mean that any small or not-for-profit doctors’ group would not even be able to bid to run the service.

    The 2012 Health and Social Care Act created Clinical Commissioning Groups in place of the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in a controversial and expensive reorganisation of the NHS.

    Many PCT staff simply transferred to the CCGs but there was supposedly a new ethos driving health policy, with local GPs for the first time deciding how funding should be spent rather than bureaucrats.

    Harmoni was the company running Camden’s out-of-hours service until it was bought out by Care UK in 2013 in a deal that made a small group of shareholders instant millionaires. 

    According to Care UK’s most recent financial declaration, the “acquisition of Harmoni significantly extended Care UK’s provision of out-of-hours services”. It is now the “market leader in the provision of these services” and offers the “only multi-site networked call centre solution providing resilience and efficiency advantages”, the papers add.

    Keep Our NHS Public say that companies such as Care UK are winning contracts like the out-of-hours service because they are often the only ones able to navigate the complex seas of NHS bureaucracy and big business. Haverstock Healthcare – a federation of Camden surgeries that was set up by GPs to compete for contracts in the new NHS marketplace – was considered too small to even bid for the last contract of this kind.

    A spokeswoman for Enfield CCG, which is the “lead” CCG for the five-borough contract, said: “We want to improve patients’ experience of using and accessing urgent care services, making sure they receive the best care, from the best person, in the right place, at the right time.”

     

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