Lisa Forbes, Peterborough Labour councillor: Where’s the sense in going private?

Lisa Forbes

Lisa Forbes

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Is privatisation of health services a bad thing? Does it really matter who provides the service as long as it’s provided to a relatively high standard and is free at the point of need?

Hinchingbrooke Hospital was contracted into the hands of Circle, a private, profit-making company. When things went wrong, primarily because Circle could not make sufficient money from running Hinchingbrooke they simply walked away from the contract, leaving a situation of financial losses and the state to provide the ‘safety net’. Hinchingbrooke is a mess and you may well have seen the recent announcement about Hinchingbrooke and the NHS Trust that incorporates Peterborough City Hospital looking at ways of “more collaborative working”.

The implication of this is unclear but, even the Tory MP for Huntingdon, Jonathan Djanogly believes that this places some services at Hinchingbrooke at serious risk of downgrading and closure. It is also possible that people in Peterborough will be forced to travel to Huntingdon at their own expense for some services.

The next debacle was the shambles of the Adult and Older People’s Contract for Cambridgeshire, and Uniting Care Partnership. At the time, this was the largest NHS contract to go out to tender and was valued in the region of £800m. The basis on which the contract was offered was so flawed that after just eight months, the whole thing collapsed and responsibility for delivering the service has now been assumed by the Cambridgeshire Clinical Commissioning Group. Well over £1m was spent on the tendering process and the whole cock-up has been the subject of a File on 4 documentary on Radio 4. Why did they not just leave delivery of the service with Cambridgeshire Community Services? As they were obliged to, Cambridgeshire Community Services, applied for Foundation Trust status in 2012. The Cambridgeshire Clinical Commissioning Group was instrumental in objecting and ensuring that the application failed, perhaps so that they could put the contract out to tender.

Throughout the public consultation, the CCG insisted that the Health and Social Care Act obliged them to put this service out to tender. If that is the case and now that the contract has collapsed, why is it not being re-tendered? Of course, the Chief Clinical Officer for the CCG has now resigned, but too late, the damage is already done.

Another issue to highlight is what is known as the Transforming Pathology Partnership. Back in 2013 the Pathology departments from a number of different hospitals – Colchester, Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, East & North Herts, Addenbrooke’s and Hinchingbrooke transferred into what is known as The Pathology Partnership. This is an NHS organisation ‘hosted’ by Cambridge University Hospitals Trust. Ever since inception it has been chronically under-resourced and the service is on its knees. It is projected, by their own figures, to report a loss of £12.9m at the end of this financial year and for some strange reason Peterborough City Hospital’s pathology dept. seems desperate to join this sinking ship.

What seems obvious is when these expensive-to-administer tendered contracts go wrong, which often they do, it is left to the British tax payer to foot the bill for something we cannot afford to fail. So it begs the 
question, why hand the contracts to the profit-making private sector in the first place?