As part of the new NHS reforms, which came into effect on the 1st of April 2013, NHS services in England were required to be placed on the open market. Service providers are now allowed to bid for services as part of these tendering arrangements. As part of the new reforms, responsibility for sexual health services was passed to local councils.
Last month, representatives of BASHH and the Royal College of Physicians, wrote to all councils in England warning about the dangers of competitive tendering. Whilst not all councils are currently commissioning services on a competitive basis, many have indicated intention to do so. In Derby, sexual health cuts of £430,000 have been suggested as the council works to find a further £9 million of funds through cuts. Awarding service contracts to the cheapest provider may well be the only way that sexual health services can still be provided, even if it means the quality of patient care has to be sacrificed.
As Dr Janet Wilson and Sir Richard Thomson say in their letter, tendering may mean greater choice for patients, and potential savings, but they also give examples of the negative impact on the provision of sexual health services: delays awaiting premises for service, the loss of highly trained staff and effects on morale of staff providing services.
For many of us, the memory of the costs of PFI initiatives remains fresh. It remains to be seen whether competitive tendering will turn out to be more costly in the long run.