Health provider needs to “come clean” on damage to patient services due to collapse of contract, demands MP

Meg Hillier MP

Meg Hillier MP - Credit: Archant

Patient services in Cambridgeshire are “likely to suffer” following the collapse of an £800 million contract to provide older people’s and community services, according to a new report.

The Government’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, published yesterday, described the handling of a contract between the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and the UnitingCare Partnership as beset by a “catalogue of failures”.

The UnitingCare Partnership contract began in April 2015 and was terminated after only eight months because of a failure to reach agreement on contract cost.

The termination led to unfunded costs incurred by UnitingCare Partnership totalling at least £16 million, which had to be shared between its two trust partners—Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust—as well as the CCG.

The collapse of the contract and the huge costs involved has reduced the money now available to provide patient services in Cambridgeshire.

Meg Hillier MP, chairman of the PAC, delivered a damming verdict.

“It beggars belief that a contract of such vital importance to patients should be handled with such incompetence,”

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“The deal went ahead without parties agreeing on what would be provided and at what price—a failure of business acumen that would embarrass a child in a sweet shop, and one with far more serious consequences.

“Services for patients are likely to suffer and we will be expecting the clinical commissioning group to come clean about precisely how much damage has been done in terms of future service provision and finances.”

The report also sets out urgent recommendations to address the lack of commercial skills in the NHS and calls on NHS England and NHS Improvement to improve the oversight and supervision of contracting arrangements to “avoid such catastrophic failures in future”.

There was a “fundamental mismatch” between what the CCG expected to pay for the contract and what UnitingCare Partnership expected to receive, and “it was grossly irresponsible of the trusts and the CCG to rush ahead with the contract without sufficient clarity on the costs and the risks”, according to the report.

In a statement, issued on the CCG’s website, chief officer, Tracey Dowling, said: “There have been a number of published reviews into the contract failure. Each of the reviews has recognised the complexity of the procurement and each has made recommendations for all of the organisations involved, as well as the wider NHS, to learn from. We have accepted the findings from all of the reviews. We will fully consider the recommendations in Public Accounts Committee report to ensure that we have taken account of all possible learning from all the reviews. In common with other areas, we are now working with our NHS and Local Authority partners to develop a Sustainability and Transformation Plan to address the challenges of a growing and aging population. This needs to be a robust plan owned by all the organisations providing health and care locally which will allow us to meet our ambitions for health and care and to make services financially sustainable.”