One of Brighton and Hove’s leading private health providers has made an extra £767,000 for work that it didn’t do, according to the Green Party.
Care UK, which runs several NHS services in Brighton & Hove, made the money in the 2009-10 financial year.
The sum relates to work scheduled at the Sussex Orthopaedic Treatment Centre (SOTC) in Haywards Heath.
However, Brighton and Hove’s health chiefs defended Care UK.
They said that the figures were the result of a change in priorities forced on the NHS during the snow last winter.
The treatment centre was asked to share the extra workload as scores of patients needed emergency care for broken bones and other snow and ice-related injuries.
Sven Rufus, the Brighton and Hove Green Party health spokesman, criticised the contract.
He said: “This is another example of how difficult it is to manage and ensure value for money from outsourcing public services to private contractors.
“It’s clearly inappropriate for Care UK to be taking home an extra three quarters of a million pounds of taxpayer money for failing to do much as work as was predicted.”
The figure emerged at a Brighton and Hove City Council health overview and scrutiny committee meeting.
The committee was reviewing the performance of the orthopaedic centre.
Councillor Rufus said that it has come in for repeated scrutiny because of concerns about its performance, contractual arrangements and value for money.
The centre is contracted out to Care UK to be run for the NHS under the terms of an Independent Sector Treatment Centres (ISTC) agreement.
The Greens say that these NHS contracts have been heavily criticised by healthcare professionals, unions and think-tanks for providing poor value for money and lacking accountability.
The contracts pay private providers for their estimated work, not the actual work that they do – so even if they under-perform they receive payment.
The contracts also pay out more per operation than NHS trusts receive under the standard NHS tariff, unfairly rewarding private providers, say the Greens.
The party has previously said that the orthopaedic centre also costs Brighton and Hove City Teaching Primary Care Trust an extra £2 million to £3million a year. This relates to the cost of complex orthopaedic operations that the centre in Haywards Heath refuses to take on.
The centre has also twice had concerns flagged up during inspections by regulators.
The Greens also pointed to a declaration by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley on the Electoral Commission database. It shows that the minister received a significant personal donation from the wife of Care UK’s chairman in the run-up to the general election in May.
A spokesman for the primary care trust, also known as NHS Brighton and Hove, said that the treatment centre contract was carefully monitored and delivered full value for money in 2009-10.
The spokesman said: “Unprecedented demand on trauma services during severe weather conditions last winter led to NHS Brighton and Hove asking the SOTC to suspend some planned surgery.
“This was so it could work in partnership to support the wider NHS which was under pressure.
“During this time, the SOTC provided a total of 210 bed days’ worth of post-operative clinical support and rehabilitation for trauma patients at no extra cost to the NHS.
“Despite this change to the SOTC’s normal contracted workload, the number of overall procedures carried out by the end of the financial year 2009-10 was actually above the level of contracted activity.
“While the focus away from higher-cost surgery over the winter meant that the annual cost to the SOTC of these contracted procedures was less than the value of the contract, the SOTC’s contribution to helping manage the winter demands is recognised as significant and is appreciated by NHS partners.”
Pamela Mackie, Care UK’s General Manager at the treatment centre, said: “Over the five-year life of the contract we are confident that the centre will meet targets for both value and volume of operations.
“The reason for the financial shortfall discussed at the recent meeting was largely down to two factors.
“These were the heavy snow and ice in December and January which meant that many patients couldn’t get to the hospital and, secondly, the fact that the centre stopped most of its routine operations in January to help local NHS partners cope with the huge number of local people injured in the wintry weather.
“The Sussex Orthopaedic Treatment Centre carries out over 6,000 procedures a year and enjoys an enviable level of patient satisfaction with 98 per cent of patients rating it as very good or excellent.
“If the number of patients we see drops for any reason, we still have to run the hospital so it is not true to say that we ‘pocketed’ money.
“I strongly recommend reading the full report which was presented at the recent health overview and scrutiny meeting which tells a very different story to this selective snapshot.”
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