Local NHS bosses called to account for collapse of the UnitingCare Partnership contract at a cost of £25 million to Cambridgeshire tax payers

Tracy Dowling

Tracy Dowling - Credit: Archant

Local NHS bosses will face tough questioning on Wednesday (14) over the loss of £25 million of taxpayers money following the collapse of the Unitingcare Partnership contract.

Chief officer of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Tracy Dowli

Chief officer of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Tracy Dowling speaking at a recent meeting to discuss the future of the MIUs in Fenland and East Cambs. - Credit: Archant

Among those due to give evidence to the government’s public accounts committee - the body which makes sure the public gets value for money - is Tracy Dowling, chief operating officer of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The CCG is the health service body behind current moves to close three minor injuries units in East Cambridgeshire and Fenland to save costs.

The £800 million contract between the UnitingCare Partnership (UCP) and the CCG was set up to provide mental health and community services for adults and older people in Cambridgeshire.

But in December last year - less than eight months after it began - it ran into financial difficulties and collapsed.

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The contract’s collapse, at a cost of around £25 million, is widely blamed by campaigners for the current threat to the MIUs at the Princess of Wales Hospital, Ely, Doddington Hospital and the North Cambs Hospital in Wisbech.

The National Audit Office (NAO) recently looked at the contract’s design, how it was drawn up and the way it operated and the events that led to its termination.

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The NAO report, published in July, highlighted accountability, governance and risk management factors behind the contract’s collapse and established the cost to the taxpayer of the contract’s failure.

The findings suggest that a number of factors contributed to the collapse.

It found the CCG and UCP “could and should have foreseen” the risks. The contract led to losses of £9 million in procurement costs and another £16 million when the contract was terminated in December.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, acknowledged “this contract was innovative and ambitious, but ultimately an unsuccessful venture, which failed for financial reasons, which could and should have been foreseen.

“It had the strong potential to join together all bodies in the local health economy to deliver better patient care. However, limited oversight and a lack of commercial expertise led to problems that quickly became insurmountable.”

Wednesday’s hearing at Portcullis House in London will hear evidence from three local NHS bosses: Tracy Dowling, CCG; Roland Sinker, chief executive, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Aidan Thomas, chief executive, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

Simon Stevens, chief executive, NHS England and Stephen Hay, executive director of regulation and deputy chief executive, NHS improvement will also give evidence.

The public accounts committee scrutinises the value for money - the economy, efficiency and effectiveness - of public spending and generally holds the government and its civil servants to account for the delivery of public services.

As delivery models for public services have changed, so the reach of the committee, in following the taxpayer’s pound, has spread beyond government departments to also examine public bodies and private companies providing public services.

“There was a recognition, shared by our stakeholders and partners, that we needed to change the way older people’s and adult community services were provided. The UnitingCare contract was an innovative model based on an Outcomes Framework and was designed to deliver measurable improvements in people’s health. This approach had strong support from our partners in the NHS, local authorities, and voluntary sector.

Mrs Dowling said: “There have been a number of published reviews into the contract failure. Each of the reviews has recognised the complexity of the procurement and each has made recommendations for all of the organisations involved - not only for the CCG, but also other NHS organisations, regulators, and the wider NHS - to learn from.

“We have accepted the findings from all of the Reviews.

“We continue to support the model of care that is now being delivered by CPFT and providers locally and we are working closely with all our health and care partners to ensure that patients receive good outcomes from the care they receive within the resources available to the health and care system as a whole.

“I look forward to answering questions at the PAC hearing on Wednesday.”

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