Exclusive: Half of PCTs use firms to help commission services

More than half of PCTs used private companies or consultants to help commission services in 2008/9, a GP newspaper investigation has found.

Photograph: JH Lancy
Photograph: JH Lancy

In addition, a fifth of PCTs use private companies to develop, write or improve their strategic plans, the investigation shows.

Data obtained from 64 PCTs under the Freedom of Information Act show that they paid an average of £284,329 to private firms in 2008/9. PCTs used an average of four firms each to provide advice or support.

14 admitted a private firm was paid to write, develop or improve their annual or long-term strategic plans.

Some PCTs paid private firms huge sums for help. Birmingham East and North PCT paid data supplier Dr Foster more than £990,000 as part of a plan to cut health inequalities.

GP newspaper also found that two SHAs – NHS East of England and NHS North West – employed firms on behalf of PCTs to help develop their strategic plans.

In addition, PCTs are spending tens of thousands of pounds preparing themselves for the scrutiny of the DoH’s World Class Commissioning (WCC) panel. Five PCTs and one SHA – NHS North West – paid private firms to conduct mock interviews to prepare PCT board members for their WCC assessments.

The revelations come as an investigation by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) found that the NHS spends £350m a year on management consultants, enough to expand the QOF by a third.

Dr David Jenner, practice-based commissioning lead at the NHS Alliance, said it may be effective for smaller PCTs to outsource highly-skilled work but PCTs should ‘be able to write their own plans’.

‘At a time like this we need co-operation, without paying for all the additional costs involved in the private sector, like their advertising.’

Dr Jenner said if a company’s contribution to a PCT’s strategy is not clear, it could be seen by the public as a form of deception.

The DoH approved 14 companies last year for PCTs to use under the Framework for procuring External Support for Commissioners (FESC).

Last year a handful of PCTs, including NHS Northampton and NHS Wigan, announced multi-million pound deals with private firms under the framework.

tom.ireland@haymarket.com

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