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Blood service looks set to remain in house

The head of the NHS blood service has expressed optimism it will escape part-privatisation amid suggestions the government is worried about the public backlash against private involvement in public services.

NHS Blood and Transplant chief executive Lynda Hamlyn told HSJ she did not expect “too many surprises” when the results of a commercial review of the service are announced this summer.

The service survived the government’s cull of arm’s length bodies last July. However, a further review was announced to look at whether parts of the service, including testing and processing of blood and logistics, could be delivered more effectively by a commercial organisation.

At least eight companies were invited in for discussion with the Department of Health’s commercial directorate. Four of them, including Capita and DHL, expressed an interest.

However, Ms Hamlyn said the service had made a “good case” for keeping the whole supply chain, including testing and processing, in-house.

“Our logistics isn’t just a taxi service, we have to be able to carry it at the right temperature at the right time… these are not things that are open to Fred Bloggs Haulage,” she said.

The review will be handed to health minister Anne Milton for consideration this summer.

In March Ms Milton told the House of Commons it was important to “constantly market-test within NHS provision”. But in a recent letter to Unison, Ms Milton said any decision to hold competitive tendering processes for its services would be “a matter for NHSBT”.

A leading NHS commentator told HSJ the move away from private sector involvement in the blood service was probably connected to a desire to avoid a furore like the one that met proposals to sell off forests.

“You couldn’t pick something more controversial than the blood service for private sector involvement,” the source said.

Nick Seddon, deputy director of think tank Reform, told HSJ the apparent climbdown on private sector involvement in NHS Blood and Transplant indicated a wider trend following the controversy over the Health Bill.

“I think you can safely say the government is going backwards on choice and competition,” he said.

“The government threw out price competition without consideration because it caused a bit of a hoo-ha.”

Readers' comments (4)

  • This is most unfortunate, just when I'd worked out my pricing structure for my donations.

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  • Turkeys voting for Christmas again springs to mind. Given that bllod (like food) needs to be transported at the right temperature the right time etc and has a shelf life, and is done by a multiplicity of providers, I cannot understand why this supply chain could not be successfully outsourced. Who knows, a new provider may even be able to address the issue of donors....

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  • Tfhis is very good news, its clear Lansley no longer has the confidence or support of the powers in charge.
    Fragmentation of the NHS has done nothing but harm to NHS users. Now we just need the white paper filing in a bin and we could work with something more constructive.

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  • Good news that the government are backing down on this, but what about the NHS Bio-Products Laboratory where blood products are prepared? Will this be retained as a not-for-profit operation within the NHS? - in keeping with WHO guidance.
    Scotland has already closed its equivalent unit in favour of buying commercial blood products because they were judged to be cheaper. Since then commercial prices have gone through the roof - surprise surpise.

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