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I am a semi-retired former Scottish trade union policy wonk, now working on a range of projects. All views are my own, not any of the organisations I work with. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Strange case of a health board contract

A lot of interest today in the strange case of a contract NHS Lothian's former Chief Executive placed with a management consultancy firm. There was a suggestion that he was taking up an appointment with this firm, but it appears that this is no longer the case.

It appears that the contract was for finding spare capacity in the private sector to treat NHS patients to assist with the management of waiting times. NHS Lothian has been the subject of an investigation into its management of waiting lists recently. The firm in question is HD Partners and the contract was worth £75,000.

The facts are somewhat difficult to verify as the firm in question is difficult to contact. A number of journalists have tried very hard to even find the firm. The BBC's Eleanor Bradford, who broke the story, called the number on their website to be told that nobody had heard of them!

All of this leaves a number of questions to be answered.

- Why was the private sector being used in the first place?

- If there wasn't any in-house capacity, why use an intermediary? There are only a limited number of possible suppliers for these services within a reasonable distance. You could quickly contact them directly. £75k would pay for a lot of operations.

- What contractual procedures were followed? Was this contract specified and tendered for? What Best Value assessment was undertaken?

- What due diligence was undertaken of HD Partners? Are they an approved contractor? What is their expertise?

- What employment contract provisions does NHS Lothian require to limit the possibility of senior staff taking up appointments with firms they have approved contracts with? For instance is there a gap requirement?

The use of private hospitals for this type of initiative is much rarer in Scotland than in England. The costs are substantial and the track record mixed. Never the less, it is a fairly straightforward procurement exercise that shouldn't require the employment of management consultants. The Cabinet Secretary will no doubt already be making, what is becoming a regular trip, to NHS Lothian for answers to these questions. We will await answers with interest!

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