Suffolk: Union boss criticises decision to allow private provider run community health services

SUFFOLK: A private company has been chosen to take over providing community health services to around 600,000 patients in Suffolk, prompting one union to warn it is “a bitter taste of things to come”.

NHS Suffolk has announced Serco is their preferred bidder to run the service, which includes district nurses, speech therapists and the management of community hospitals – a contract which is thought to be worth around �140million.

NHS Suffolk bosses said the move will result in improved services for patients with Serco investing in technology and improving the co-ordination between services, while stressing the care still comes under the NHS ethos of being free at the point of delivery.

But Unison branded the decision “an ideological move, purely to save money”.

Chief executive of the primary care trust, Paul Watson, said between now and October when the transfer is expected to take place, NHS Suffolk will be ensuring the contract they draw up includes adequate safeguards to guarantee the highest level of care.

“We will be applying the same scrutiny to Serco as we do to other providers, including hospitals, measuring different aspects of clinical quality and safety,” said Dr Watson.

He added: “Patients will see a difference, the service will be more co-ordinated. Now for instance a GP assessing a patient will have lots of different ways to call for help to refer a patient to community services.

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“But under the new way of working there will be a single point of access and from there community services will be able to work out the best way to respond.”

Criticising the decision, Tracey Lambert, of Unison, said: “It’s an extremely sad day for the people in Suffolk and NHS staff who’ll see their community service sold off in this way.

“There is no evidence to show that they (Serco) will improve patient care or provide better health services.

“This contract is worth an estimated �140m. Just how much of that will be ploughed back into patient care and improving services and how much will go directly to Serco shareholders?”

n Are you affected? What do you think? Write to health reporter Lizzie Parry at Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail lizzie.parry@archant.co.uk