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Huge growth in private care sector

Published 25/04/2015

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It is "undeniable" that privatisation is happening within the NHS, the report found

The number of private firms delivering NHS care has risen dramatically, according to new research.

Companies such as Virgin Care and Care UK saw the private care sector win contracts totalling more than £3.5 billion in 2014/15 - five times the previous year.

A report by the NHS Support Federation said that since the Health and Social Care Act came into force in April 2013 the amount of NHS care delivered through the market, for example, through competitive tendering, has multiplied.

Outsourcing has expanded rapidly and it is "undeniable" that privatisation is happening within the NHS, it said, warning that if the rate of increase continues, healthcare will end up being dominated by big business.

Non-NHS organisations have consistently won more awards in every year since 2010, it said, with the win rate never dropping below 60% over the past five years.

The report said this was based on a survey of all the awards placed on the European contract website between 2010 and 2015, which is part of the contractual process laid down in government regulations on procurement.

Single contracts worth more than £1 million are not uncommon, with 16 such contracts awarded over the past two years.

It said that in February it was announced that 11 private health companies would share a £780 million contract to provide diagnostic and surgical procedures in the biggest example of outsourcing of NHS clinical services to date.

"The contract winners include three companies that have been involved in high-profile scandals around their performance in other NHS contracts, Circle, Vanguard and Care UK," it added.

Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust in Cambridgeshire became the first to be run by a private operator when it was taken over by Circle in 2012, but the company announced it was pulling out of the deal in January, hours before the release of a highly critical report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Circle has also been awarded two other substantial contracts since 2010, together worth more than £285 million, the report said.

It added that dozens of people in Somerset were left with impaired vision, pain and discomfort after undergoing operations provided by Vanguard Healthcare under contract with Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton and the contract was terminated, while concerns were raised about the quality of care at two care homes run by Care UK in Suffolk in October 2014 and admissions were suspended after an inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The Federation said it calculated the results by analysing the contract notices posted by all NHS commissioners on official tendering websites over the period from April 2010 to April 2015.

It said that a total of £21 billion worth of opportunities have been advertised, covering every aspect of healthcare.

NHS Support Federation director Paul Evans said: "It is undeniable that privatisation is happening within the NHS.

"This evidence will help give voters a clear view of how the NHS has been opened up to the market and profit making providers. Outsourcing has expanded rapidly and will continue without any real limit unless there is a change in policy.

"The evidence shows that outsourcing has been supercharged by the government's NHS changes. Stick to the same path and our healthcare will become dominated by business and our NHS will be far less likely to survive."

Yesterday a study by researchers at Imperial College London was published that concluded that private healthcare companies supply "consistently worse" quality of primary care than GP services provided by the NHS in England.

A comparison of alternative healthcare providers - which include voluntary organisations as well as private sector companies - with NHS primary care services found alternative providers performed worse than traditional providers on 15 of 17 performance indicators such as how easily patients get appointments and the frequency of hospital admission for chronic conditions.

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