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NHS Devon considers outsourcing children’s services

Private firms are bidding to run children’s services at NHS Devon, it has emerged. The companies in competition for the three-year, £130m contract are Virgin Care and Serco, as well as Devon Partnership NHS Trust, Barnardo’s and other charities.

The services include palliative care for the dying, treatment for mental health, therapy and respite care for disabled children and child protection.

The announcement comes in the same week that the trust running George Eliot Hospital in the West Midlands said that it was investigating the possibility of bringing in another NHS trust or a private firm to manage it. Supporters of this type of competition maintain that it can drive standards up and keep costs down, yet opponents suggest that it risks putting profit before patient safety.

The contract will be awarded to the ‘most economically advantageous’ bid, according to criteria listed on the European Commission website. The final bids will be evaluated in May.

NHS Devon’s director of strategic commissioning, Jayne Carroll, said the aim of contracting out the services was “to secure the best possible service and improve outcomes for children and young people while continuing to strengthen integrated community-based health and social care”.

A spokesman for health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “We support patient choices and whoever is best getting the contracts. We reject the idea that because a private company might get it, it is privatisation.”

Health minister Simon Burns said: “The health bill is not relevant to this tender – local commissioners are following procurement rules issued by the previous Labour government.

“The health bill is the first piece of legislation that prevents discrimination in favour of private health companies over the NHS. In addition, it introduces safeguards to ensure patients can continue to access services, closing a hole left by the previous government.”

Professor Terence Stephenson, president of the RCPCH, said: “Children’s services are complex, as some tragic high-profile incidents have shown. It is essential that any provider has proven expertise in managing not only clinical services but also key areas such as safeguarding and, on the face of it, it does not appear that all of the shortlisted bidders have experience in managing such services.”

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