No private company will have any decision-making powers on how public money is spent following a shakeup of health services around Bath, leaders have confirmed.
Campaigners said it “looks bad and smells bad” for HCRG Care Group – the new name for Virgin Care – to have a place on the partnership board for Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire (BSW).
Medvivo, another private company, is also a member of the board, an informal meeting of all the organisations that provide health and care services to the local population – but its shadow meetings will end before new legislation puts the integrated care system, which will replace clinical commissioning groups, on a statutory footing this summer.
The assurance from NHS leaders comes after Baroness Thornton tabled an amendment in the House of Lords to the Health and Care Bill to prevent staff at private providers from joining decision-making integrated care systems.
Speaking last month, she said: “The objective is that private providers cannot have any part in decisions about how NHS resources are allocated or how contracts are placed.
“We all know that there is a single example of someone from Virgin Care being on a non-statutory non-decision-making ICS.”
She added: “That is still one too many. It is the principle that matters.”
A separate amendment from health minister Edward Argar sought to prevent individuals with significant interests in private healthcare from sitting on ICSs, which are hoped to be a vehicle for achieving greater integration of health and care services.
Johnbosco Nwogbo, the lead campaigner at NHS campaigning organisation We Own It, said: “It makes no sense at all that those who could stand to benefit financially from decisions made on NHS boards would not be completely ruled out of sitting on those boards.
“How can people in Somerset be sure that the care they are getting is the best that can be given to them, when there may be people involved in the decision-making process that may be trying to profit from the decisions.
“It looks bad and it smells bad. It is very important that the newly designated chair of the local ICS board, Stephanie Elsy, makes a public commitment that Virgin Care and any private company will not be allowed to sit on the board deciding how our NHS money is spent.”
Ms Elsy has now made that commitment, saying: “I am happy to confirm that HCRG Care Group will not have a place on the future ICB board – nor will any other private provider.
“The current shadow BSW Partnership Board is an informal meeting of all the organisations that provide health and care services to our local population. It has no decision-making powers.
“It currently includes HCRG Care Group and Medvivo because they are providers of local community services.
“But these meetings will end before the new legislation puts our integrated care system on a statutory footing from July 1, 2022.”
Virgin Care was taken over and rebranded as HCRG Care Group weeks after it secured a three-year extension of its contract to deliver community services in Bath and North East Somerset.
A spokesperson for HCRG Care Group said: “We were invited by the NHS to sit on the partnership board in BSW as we deliver vital community services.
“We are committed to supporting the health and care system in BSW, and to doing all we can to work in partnership and ensure local health and care services are joined-up and effective for local people.
“The partnership board doesn’t make any decisions about how NHS resources are allocated or how contracts are placed.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter