Surgical centres protest at ISTC contract delays

Private providers of independent surgical centres are to protest to the department of health at the ponderous timetable for re-tendering for five year contracts to treat tens of thousands of NHS patients annually.

The contracts begin to expire between January and May next year. But the department is proposing that where a primary care trust decides it wants to keep a service on, the tendering process will take as long as six months.

The first to be renewed is the Eccleshill treatment centre in Bradford, whose contract formally expires in January. However, the department of health said a new contract would not be awarded until February.

The Bradford and Aire-dale primary care trust declined to say whether Circle, its operator, would be given a contract extension to keep the service running as it was put out to tender – although it did say it was “planning to ensure service continuity”.

With no timetable set for re-tendering another 12 contracts that expire next year, their operators fear they too will face renewals that run up to or beyond the contract end.

Jill Watts, chief executive of Ramsay Health Care, which has four treatment centres whose contracts expire in the first part of next year, said: “The timetable is quite ludicrous. The message we were originally given was that there would be a much quicker process.”

Ken Anderson, former commercial director at the department of health and the original negotiator of the contracts, said going through a full tendering process for centres that had performed well was “a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Now a banker with UBS, Mr Anderson said the department had known for five years that the contracts would need to be renewed.

The providers have already agreed that the services will be provided at NHS prices, he said, and all that was needed was a re-negotiation.

The process the department has proposed was “farcical”, he said. “It leaves staff and the companies hanging on the wire, not knowing if they are going to be providing healthcare.”

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