ICB admits it failed to consult with patients over APMS GP contract

ICB admits it failed to consult with patients over APMS GP contract

A Lancashire GP practice could be taken over by a private provider, despite concerns from staff and patients who did not feel consulted.

Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB was inundated with letters from patients and staff last week after it decided to award SSP Health the APMS contract for Withnell Health Center in Chorley.

Since the contract with the center is a preliminary agreement, the board is obliged to conduct an open procurement process “that allows fair consideration of all interested suppliers,” said the ICB.

But patients and staff, including Dr. Ann Robinson, who has been a partner at the practice for 10 years, said the public was not properly consulted.

A protest was held outside the practice last week to demand that the ICB reverse its decision and yesterday the campaign group Save Withnell Health Center met with commissioners to express their concerns about the takeover.

dr Robinson told Pulse: “They met 20 of us ahead of a board meeting and members of Chorley Council were there too as they also feel they had no part in the decision.

“The ICB has asked the wrong questions in this consultation process and is going against its own priorities, it has not asked patients what they wanted.

“Some of their questions weren’t related to a small business, and that means a small business can never win that contract again.”

Chorley Together PCN also sent a letter to the ICB stating that as part of the procurement process they were not asked to provide feedback on the center and its services.

The letter states: “More importantly, and somewhat alarmingly, as part of the procurement process, the practice’s patients were not given an opportunity to provide their opinions on Dr. Robinson and her team to express.

“As a buyer of GP services, the PCN felt that the ICB has a legal obligation to seek the opinion of patients in the practice on how a proposed change would affect them.”

Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB Chief Executive Kevin Lavery said no contract had yet been signed and further engagement could have increased patient and staff awareness of the procurement process.

He said: “We met with some representatives from the Withnell Health Center campaign group this morning and acknowledge their concerns.

“The ICB has received a large number of letters, concerns and comments from staff, patients and residents. These are actively being worked on, but in the meantime I would like to reassure everyone involved that we are listening. We take the issue very seriously and the questions raised deserve comprehensive answers.

“We had a duty to conduct an open procurement process for the services provided at Withnell Health Centre. This allows fair consideration of all interested suppliers and is part of our legal responsibility as an ICB under NHS and public procurement rules.

“Further engagement could have increased patient and staff awareness of the procurement process and could have resulted in another organization taking over the running of the GP practice, and for that we apologize.

“We are currently reviewing all information from the procurement process and have not signed a contract with a new supplier at this point. We hope that this matter will be resolved within two to three weeks.

‘Going forward, we aim to go well beyond this with our public engagement and want to reassure our local community that ensuring quality service remains a priority for the ICB.’

dr Robinson added: “We all know the plight of the NHS at the moment and retention is one of the biggest issues – some of the staff at Withnell Health Center have been there for 15 or 20 years, we have retained staff, and they will everyone goes.’

SSP Health said it will keep the team, continue their good work and expand the services available to patients.

Its website states that drawing on years of NHS experience and feedback from GPs across the country, SSP Health was created “to find a new, innovative way to save practices from closure, retain valuable staff and… continue to provide local health care”.

Andy Scaife, chief executive officer of SSP Health, said the Lancashire Telegraph: “We fully understand the concerns of everyone involved and would like to reassure both patients and staff at Withnell Health Center that our primary focus is to ensure the practice continues to provide the same or better level of patient care.

‘We are proud of our very loyal workforce, many of our general practitioners, nurses and practice teams have been with us for many years.’

In December 2021, the Chorley and South Ribble CCG Primary Care Commissioning Committee made the decision to appoint Dr. Granting Ann Robinson a temporary contract “to ensure continuity of service to patients”.

The ICB said a letter was sent to all patients informing them that a fixed-term contract had been awarded and that a process to identify a long-term provider was being carried out.

Patients were also asked to submit their opinions via a patient survey and there was a response rate of around 11%, with the ICB acknowledging that “more could have been done to keep patients informed”.

Meanwhile, GPs in London have been asked again to provide clinical support during ambulance strikes as the next strike is due next week.

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