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Putting the NHS out to corporate tender isn't working

Opinion piece in The New Statesman (15 July 2017): A few years ago, our out-of-hours service was put out to competitive tender. The existing co-operative run by local GPs narrowly missed out on the new contract, coming an agonisingly close second to a private provider that I call “the Big Beast of the North”. The Big Beast won the bid with promises of slick organisation and a swanky service redesign. Our clinical commissioning group (CCG) chairman announced a new era of corporate professionalism; the amateurism of the former service would be put to shame.

It didn’t work out like that. In the decade that the GPs ran the co-op, we never had a shift unfilled. Once the Big Beast took over, the rota developed more gaps than an exceptionally holey piece of Emmental cheese. Doctors had to be flown in from other parts of the country to provide a skeleton service. The formerly loyal staff of administrators, drivers and screen-watchers – whose jobs were transferred under employment protection rules – began leaving in droves; several told me they’d had enough of the chaotic, unresponsive new management.

The CCG tried to calm nerves, citing the inevitable turbulence that comes with change. Everything would settle down, we were told. It never has.

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