HEALTH chiefs have defended giving a £2 million contract for Wycombe’s new minor injuries unit to a private company without it going out to tender.
Officials have also disputed claims that two of the decision-makers had a ‘potential conflict of interest’ during the commissioning process.
The Minor Injuries and Illnesses Unit [MIIU] opened in October last year after the contract was awarded to a private firm called Bucks Urgent Care, which also runs the county’s GP-out-of-hours service.
It was decided ‘incumbent providers’ should be offered the chance to run the unit, so Bucks Urgent Care was asked to submit a joint proposal with Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs Wycombe Hospital.
The private firm is the ‘prime contractor’, with the NHS trust providing nurses to staff the unit.
It appears tendering was not required as the Bucks Urgent Care had already gone through a competitive process to secure their GP out-of-hours contract in 2009.
But concerns have been raised by Dr Linda Derrick, a member of Wycombe Labour Party, who said: “It is not clear why this collaborative working was better than tendering for a new provider..."
Speaking in general terms she added: “It's obviously well worth a private sector company getting its foot in the door with one contract, even if it makes a loss, because there will then be other contracts available without the need to compete.”
Dr Derrick also claims two voting members in the commissioning process had a potential conflict of interest, due to their professional links to the owners of Bucks Urgent Care.
Louise Patten and Dr Annet Gamell are senior employees at the county’s two Clinical Commissioning Groups [CCGs] - the bodies set to take over health budgets.
The surgeries that make up Chiltern CCG, which covers south Buckinghamshire, hold shares in a private company called Chiltern Health Ltd, which is a joint owner of Bucks Urgent Care.
Similarly, many of the doctors whose surgeries make up Aylesbury Vale CCG hold shares in Vale Health Ltd – also a joint owner of Bucks Urgent Care.
But NHS Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire, which led the commissioning process, said Mrs Patten and Dr Gamell and "had no conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest".
A statement said Dr Gamell, of Chiltern CCG, was [and is] no longer a partner in a surgery and resigned her shareholding in Chiltern Health Ltd in June 2011 - before the commissioning process started.
Though she was one of eight voting members on the evaluation panel which decided the contract should be offered to BUC, it said she was not then involved in the contract negotiations and details of the deal.
The statement added: “In order to ensure there was no conflict of interest, none of the evaluation panel members were shareholders in any of the primary care organisations involved.
“The evaluation panel used a ranking system of one to five to determine whether the service model was ‘fit for purpose’ and that it would deliver the best service possible for local people.”
A separate statement regarding Mrs Patten [of Aylesbury Vale CCG] said: "She is not a GP and is not a shareholder in Bucks Urgent Care (BUC), the company that along with Buckinghamshire Healthcare Trust – bid for the contract to provide the Minor Injuries and illness and Unit.”
NHS Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire - the county’s primary care trust - is set to be disbanded in April under the Government’s controversial reforms, with Chiltern CCG taking control of health budgets in the south of the county.
And further fears have been raised by Dr Derrick about how the MIIU contract will be fairly monitored by the CCG, as eight of the executive board have a financial interest in BUC through their Chiltern Health shareholdings.
When asked about this issue, health chiefs said it is covered in the CCG’s Constitution and supported by the NHS Bucks Code of Conduct and Accountability, while a new code for the CCG is in the process of being approved.