Friday, September 01, 2006


A 200 million pound government deal that will mean a big expansion of private sector involvement in the health service could provoke a confrontation with the unions and the Labour Left, The Times has learnt. The contracts with 14 independent companies, concluded last week by the Department of Health without any fanfare, will provide for an additional 150,000 elective procedures a year to be carried out for the health service by private firms.

The 14 companies will be added to the Department of Health's "extended choice" network, which at present consists of foundation trusts and some independent treatment centres. Under the policy, patients awaiting elective care can choose from the list where they will be treated. Details of the deal are revealed in this week's Health Service Journal.

Seven of the biggest private healthcare companies have won a large proportion of the work, with BMI Healthcare the big victor having 44 contracts across the country. Other winners include BUPA, Nuffield, Capio, Centres for Clinical Excellence, Mercury Health and Nations Healthcare. Each contract will run for five years and the private companies will provide NHS patients with a range of elective care services including general surgery, endoscopy, ophthalmology, plastic surgery and neurology. The health department has opted for centralised bulk buying to give the NHS more advantageous terms.

The contracts were not announced last week by the Health Department, prompting suspicions among health service professionals that the Government did not wish to highlight the move before the TUC and Labour conferences, where private sector provision remains controversial. But the department suggested yesterday that there was nothing unusual about an announcement not having been made. A spokesman said: "This is not a new procurement but part of the second wave of procurement from the independent sector which was launched in May last year."


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