Protesters outside the clinic waiting for ICB board members to arrive © Photo by Save Withnell Health Centre via Facebook
Protesters outside the clinic waiting for ICB board members to arrive © Photo by Save Withnell Health Centre via Facebook

Procurement of GP services 'abandoned' due to lack of patient engagement

27 February 2023

The procurement of a new GP service provider in England has been scrapped after outcry over a lack of transparency and public consultation.

More than 1,300 letters were sent to Lancashire and South Cumbria’s Integrated Care Board (LSC ICB) complaining over its decision to award the contract to run GP services at Withnell Health Centre’s to SSP Health.

Patients protested outside the clinic in Chorley, Lancashire, and sent emails requesting the extension of the contract with the current GP provider, Dr Anne Robinson.

Robinson has held the contract for the clinic in partnership with another doctor since April 2017. In December 2021 the partnership was dissolved, prompting LSC ICB to start a new procurement process while retaining Robinson under a temporary interim contract.

However, patients at the clinic expressed their displeasure at the contract being handed over to a large private company. Campaign group Save Withnell Health Centre argued Robinson should simply have been granted the contract directly, as she had an 87% patient satisfaction rate.

It cited LSC ICB’s constitution, which permits contracts to be re-awarded to the current provider, if it “is satisfied that services to which the contract relates are capable of being provided only by that provider”.

Dr. Robinson told Supply Management: “The ICB have completely recognised the lack of patient egangement that was undertaken. What we asked for right from the start was patient engagement, because we are a good practice; we get very high patient satisfaction scores, massively higher than the national average across the board. All we wanted was for the patients to be involved in the decision, their views weren't canvassed at all. 

“People are saying, 'We want the current team. We don't want a massive provider like SSP taking over.' This is a village surgery at the heart of the community, and people don't want that to change.”

Kevin Lavery, chief executive of LSC ICB, said: “A full and robust review of the commissioning process, which includes the procurement of services for Withnell Health Centre, has taken place following the large number of concerns raised by staff, patients and residents over the past number of weeks. I would like to reassure our local population that we have listened.

“During the review, we found the patient engagement that took place was not thorough enough and, due to this, a decision has been made to abandon the current procurement process.

“As the public body responsible for commissioning GP services in Lancashire and South Cumbria, we do have a duty to undertake an open procurement process for the service provided at Withnell Health Centre and all interested providers have to be fairly considered.”

LSC ICB has now launched a new procurement process, which will take into greater account public engagement, to run over the next 18 months.

Save Withnell Health Centre expressed their gratitude over their decision on Facebook, saying: “We have been assured by the ICB that there will be a much greater emphasis on patient engagement. This is a huge win for each and every one of the staff working at the practice and for each and every one of you, our truly wonderful patients.”

Andy Scaife, CEO for SSP Health, told Supply Management it had acted in good faith with each stage of the procurement process, but understood LSC ICB had made some failings with regards to the openness of the process.

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