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Companies to run NHS services in Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 02:29 14 February 2009 | UPDATED: 22:29 05 July 2010

PRIVATE companies will be encouraged to run health services as bosses aim to create a healthcare market in Suffolk.

The "marketisation" of the NHS could see private companies being paid by the NHS to provide healthcare in place of traditional not-for-profit health organisations.

PRIVATE companies will be encouraged to run health services as bosses aim to create a healthcare market in Suffolk.

The “marketisation” of the NHS could see private companies being paid by the NHS to provide healthcare in place of traditional not-for-profit health organisations.

NHS Suffolk, which buys and plans healthcare in most of the county, though not Waveney, hopes the dramatic changes will give patients more choice and improve standards.

But patient groups have warned that a switch from a focus on healthcare to profits, if private companies win contracts, could be dangerous.

Anne Nicholls, of the Local Area Improvement Network patient group, said she was also concerned that the changes could cause chaos for the thousands of people employed by the NHS in Suffolk.

She added: “There are a number of anxieties about this. First of all, it is quality of care. Do the non-NHS providers provide care which is as good as NHS care?

“The second is, obviously there will be a tremendous amount of anxiety from the staff who are wondering if it could mean they would lose their jobs.

“Often it could be that private providers will say they can provide something for less, but will it be of the same standard?”

Tracy Dowling, NHS Suffolk's director of strategic commissioning, admitted there were risks involved in any major change but said she believed finding new ways to deliver healthcare would improve the system.

She added: “We can, through developing a local market, create better choice for patients and better outcomes for patients.

“Marketisation is the direction we are going in. The potential is big. It will see more community-based services and we will look at more provision of services by the independent sector and to really develop the market for the voluntary and community sector.

“It is a different type of commissioning. It is really exciting but we need to make sure we get best value for money.

“It is vital that we do this and we do it properly and responsibly - safeguarding our existing NHS services.

“There are risks with change but there is also massive opportunity - healthcare is never ever static.”

The shift in commissioning to encourage more non-NHS organisations to provide care is a national drive from the Department of Health which primary care trusts must follow.

As part of its push, NHS Suffolk is about to launch a new procurement document, changing the way it buys services.

Mrs Dowling added: “There is now a much bigger emphasis on people's wellbeing and preventative healthcare and that is a new market, and we have a role in developing that new market.

“There is not a one-size-fits-all approach any more and a lot of these services will be provided in the community.”

However, she pledged that the future of Ipswich Hospital and West Suffolk Hospital was secure, and added that the hospitals had successfully bid for new contracts.

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