Private firms to run health services

PRIVATE companies will be encouraged to run health services as bosses aim to create a healthcare market in Suffolk.

PRIVATE companies will be encouraged to run health services as bosses aim to create a healthcare market in Suffolk.

Dubbed “marketisation”, private companies could be paid by the NHS to provide healthcare in place of traditional not-for-profit health organisations.

NHS Suffolk, which buys and plans healthcare in the county, hopes the dramatic changes will give patients more choice and improve standards.

But patient groups have warned that a switch from a focus on healthcare to profits if private companies win contracts could be dangerous.

Anne Nicholls, of the Local Area Improvement Network patient group, said she was also concerned that the changes could cause chaos for the thousands of people employed by the NHS in Suffolk who may wonder if they will keep their jobs.

She added there would also be concern about whether non-NHS providers could provide care which is as good as the NHS.

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She said: “Often it could be that private providers will say they can provide something for less, but will it be of the same standard?”

Tracy Dowling, NHS Suffolk's director of strategic commissioning, admitted there were risks involved in any major change but said she believed finding new ways to deliver healthcare would improve the system.

She said: “It is a different type of commissioning. It is really exciting but we need to make sure we get best value for money. It is vital that we do this and we do it properly and responsibly - safeguarding our existing NHS services.”

The shift in commissioning to encourage more non-NHS organisations to provide care is a national drive from the Department of Health.

Mrs Dowling added: “There is now a much-bigger emphasis on people's well-being and preventative healthcare and that is a new market, and we have a role in developing that new market.

“There is not a one-size fits all approach any more and a lot of these services will be provided in the community.”

However she pledged that the future of Ipswich Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital was secure, and added that the hospitals had successfully bid for new contracts.

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Ipswich Hospital's view

Ipswich Hospital is facing increasing competition from other providers to deliver the services the hospital used to consider its own but is fighting back with the appointment of director of business development Nick Elliot.

Together with Suffolk Community Healthcare and West Suffolk Hospital, Ipswich Hospital recently lost a bid to provide sexual health services in the county to private contractor, Take Care Now.

Mr Elliott, who has experience in both the NHS and private sector, said there were many new challenges for the hospital, and NHS in general and the hospital had to make strong bids for services that focus on patients.

He added: “We have now got a risk of losing some elements of services that we provide but we have to make sure that we keep as much as we can and work with other providers.

“I absolutely understand why people have concerns but the principal that the NHS will be free will not change.”

Union's view

Clare Jacobs from the Suffolk branch of the Royal College of Nursing said the union was not against the plans as long as patients saw real improvements in care and services were not destabilised.

However she added that more discussions with staff were needed before drastic changes were taken.

She said: “We don't think healthcare is something you should or can do solely to make a profit and commissioners need to make sure they get only high quality care.

“You could end up with a two-tier system where private providers provide the easier services and make a profit and the NHS is left with the services that are more complex and difficult and the private sector doesn't want.”

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