Commissioning

18.10.18

Council strips contract from NHS trusts and hands it to Virgin after High Court row

Lancashire County Council (LCC) has awarded a controversial £104m healthcare contract to Virgin Care for the second time after a hearing in the High Court ordered a re-evaluation of the decision.

The contract to run LCC’s Healthy Child Programme ‘0 to 19’ was originally awarded to the private company, but two Lancashire foundation trusts contested the decision and, following a High Court hearing in April, a judge set aside the decision.

Mr Justice Stuart-Smith ordered a full reassessment of the bids after it was ruled that Lancashire CC hadn’t followed the evaluation and procurement process correctly.

But now, following a re-evaluation of the bids, Virgin Care has once again been chosen as the preferred bidder for the contract, a move heavily criticised by unions.

The two trusts, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust (LCFT) and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (BTHT), did not score as highly in the re-run evaluation, which was overseen by an independent panel of senior experts.

County councillor Shaun Turner, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “Virgin Care has now been selected as preferred bidder to provide a range of new public health services for children aged 0 to 19 after the conclusion of this procurement process.

“The law requires the county council to open services such as these up to competition where they are not provided in house. In February 2017, the previous administration chose not to do the latter and instead decided to conduct the procurement process in the open market.

“This contract will ensure there is a consistent range of 0 to 19 services across the whole county, available to all, with additional support for those who most need it.”

The existing contract will continue to be run by LCFT and BTHT until the end of March next year, ensuring minimum disruption up until it expires.

In the absence of any challenge, the county council intends to enter into a full contract with Virgin Care.

But the choice to award the contract to Virgin was criticised by Unison as a “terrible decision.”

The union’s north west regional organiser, James Rupa, said: “At a time when other councils are trying to work more closely with local NHS organisations, LCC has chosen to shift over £100m of public money from the local NHS to Virgin.

“This decision will destabilise the local NHS in Lancashire, making it harder for them to provide a full range of health services.”

He claimed that that gap between the NHS bid and Virgin’s bid was of 0.07% and argued that the council was helping to privatise the delivery of the key NHS services.

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