In December 2015 an £800 million contract for UnitingCare Partnership to provide older people’s and adult community services collapsed after only eight months because it ran into financial difficulties. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (the CCG) attempted to design a more integrated and improved service for patients in the area. But, in contracting out responsibility for commissioning local health services, it lost sight of its own commissioning responsibilities. The procurement exercise was undermined from the start by poor commercial expertise, a lack of realistic pricing, and weak oversight. The CCG accepted the lowest bid on the table, without seeking proper assurance that the two trusts, which had combined to form the UnitingCare Partnership, could deliver for that price. It was then grossly irresponsible of the trusts and the CCG to rush ahead with the contract without having resolved significant differences in their understanding of the contract price or indeed the scope of services that were included in that price. The catalogue of failures resulted in unforeseen costs and losses, and services for patients in Cambridgeshire are likely to suffer as a result. Following the collapse of the Hinchingbrooke franchise, this Committee made a specific recommendation that the NHS should improve its commercial skills, yet it still lacks the expertise to ensure that patient services are procured effectively. This is all the more worrying as local initiatives proposed in sustainability and transformation plans may still include CCGs using new or untested contracting arrangements. With the NHS budget so stretched, innovative solutions are likely to be part of attempts to make the NHS financially sustainable. NHS England and NHS Improvement must improve the oversight and supervision of contracting arrangements and avoid such catastrophic failures in future.
14 November 2016