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NHS private sector deals scrapped
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The government is rowing back on its use of the private sector for NHS care by scrapping a series of projects.

Six clinics in the pipeline and another already up-and-running will fold at a cost of millions of pounds as they do not provide good value, ministers said.

In recent years, the government in England have signed deals with firms to provide NHS treatment and diagnostic centres in a bid to cut waiting times.

Doctors said the waste of money was a "crying shame".

It comes after Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced in July there would be no third wave of independent sector treatment centres.

Over 60 deals were drawn up in the first two waves to provide minor operations and limited diagnostics, such as scans.

SCHEMES TO BE SCRAPPED
North East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire Referral Assessment Diagnostics and Treatment Service
North East Diagnostics
South East Diagnostics
Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge Electives
Cumbria, and Lancashire Clinical Assessment and Treatment Services
Lymington element of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Electives

Mr Johnson had already said two contracts with Atos Origin to provide diagnostic services in the north west and south west would not go-ahead.

He has now added another six schemes to that list, potentially costing the government millions of pounds.

So far, wave two has cost 84m on things such as legal fees and procurement costs, but some of this was spent on the schemes that have been given the go-ahead.

Mr Johnson has also decided to pull the plug on one scheme, Care UK's mobile diagnostic service for the West Midlands, that is already in operation.

The government is likely to have to pay compensation to do this, but the details of the arrangements are "commercially sensitive".

The service was launched in June to provide nearly 200,000 diagnostic procedures a year.

But the health secretary said the deal had to be terminated because of "unacceptably low rates of use".

He said: "The reduction in the overall size of the procurement does not represent a change in policy."

'Instrumental'

He also defended the government's use of the private sector.

"New providers have been instrumental in helping the NHS slash waiting times - from over 18 months 10 years ago to a matter of weeks in some places now."

As well as announcing the scrapping of the projects, Mr Johnson also gave the green light to 10 others, which will now join nearly 40 private clinics that are already open.

We were always against these schemes as we knew the NHS had enough capacity to see the patients
Alex Nunns, of Keep Our NHS Public

There are still a series of contracts to sign off from wave two and while there is to be no wave three, local NHS bosses can still ask for private sector centres if they want.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA's consultants committee, said: "It's a crying shame that so much money has been wasted on this political initiative when the NHS could have achieved better value for money."

Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "This is yet more evidence of government flip-flopping creating confusion in the health service."

Shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien added ministers had demonstrated incompetence.

But Richard Jones, chairman of the NHS Partners Network, an alliance of private sector health providers, said: "We are naturally disappointed that the scale of the next stage of this programme is going to be smaller than originally planned."

SEE ALSO
Private provider loses NHS deal
25 Jul 07 |  Health
Doubts over private clinic care
19 Jul 07 |  Health

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