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Suffolk: Concern as private firm takes over community healthcare

PUBLISHED: 06:00 23 March 2012

Dr Paul Watson, chief executive of NHS Suffolk

Dr Paul Watson, chief executive of NHS Suffolk

Contributed

A NEW era for community healthcare in Suffolk has been signalled after a private firm - which has contracts ranging from education to defence - was named as the new provider of the services.

NHS Suffolk announced yesterday that Serco had won the £140million contract to run the community services, which includes district nurses, specialist children’s services and the management of community hospitals.

Last night, health chiefs said they had got the best organisation for the job - but a union hit out at the “money-saving” change, while a hospital group in Aldeburgh said they never wanted services to leave the NHS.

Services are currently provided by Suffolk Community Healthcare (SCH), part of NHS Suffolk, but will transfer by the autumn.

Serco describes itself as an international service company, and works with both local and national governments in a diverse array of areas - including education, health, transport, science and defence.

In a statement, it said its approach would simplify services and processes, and “utilising new technologies to improve accessibility and address the rural needs of Suffolk patients”.

Dr Paul Watson, chief executive of NHS Suffolk, said Serco - which already runs a community hospital in Essex and out-of-hours care in Cornwall - was set to “further improve” services.

“We are confident it will ensure that our patients continue to receive well-managed, effective services, with a constant focus on improving quality, and delivering value for money for the taxpayer,” he said.

Officials have also stressed that care would still come under the NHS ethos of being free at the point of delivery.

However, a hospital support group leader has expressed disappointment that a private company will provide community health services in Suffolk.

Chairman of the Aldeburgh Community Hospital League of Friends, Tony Bone, said there were issues with fundraising for a medical facility that was under private management.

However, he added: “While we are disappointed that Suffolk Community Healthcare (SCH) is going to a private sector healthcare provider and we would prefer it to stay with the NHS, we will continue to work with the new providers to improve patient care in Aldeburgh Hospital.

“We have been assured that the assets and equipment that we have helped fund and will be buying in the future, will remain with the NHS and at the hospital, and that was one of our main concerns.”

The changes are part of nationwide plans for community health services to be commissioned rather than provided by primary care trusts.

Dr Watson said between now and October when the transfer is expected to take place, NHS Suffolk would draw up a contract that included 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,” Dr Watson 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.

“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.”

Dr Watson insisted that staff currently employed by SCH would retain their terms and conditions and NHS pensions for the duration of a three-year contract.

However, Unison branded the decision “an ideological move, purely to save money”. Criticising the decision, the union’s Tracey Lambert 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.”

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