• DHSC has extended NHSE’s powers over commissioners from the end of this year to 31 March 2021
  • Extension coincides with NHSE’s decision to continue with some centralised private sector deals for another three months
  • Spire confirms new three-month deal
  • All of England due to become integrated care systems by 1 April 2021 which may see new longer-term contracting arrangements

NHS England’s control over clinical commissioning groups has been extended to enable it to ‘commission healthcare from independent sector providers’ during the ongoing covid pandemic.

The new direction from the Department of Health and Social Care extends the powers that NHSE was given in March this year by another three months. The direction was previously due to end on 31 December 2020 and will now finish on 31 March 2021.

As with the previous directive, the new order said: “The secretary of state for health and social care gives the following directions in exercise of the powers conferred by section 253 of the National Health Service Act 2006(1).

“The secretary of state considers that the incidence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in England constitutes an emergency for the purposes of section 253(1) of that Act, and that accordingly it is appropriate to give these directions.”

The powers allow NHS England to respond to coronavirus as it “deems appropriate”, but a statement on the DHSC’s website said they were likely to be used for the commissioning of non-NHS providers.

The directions were extended a week after HSJ revealed large private hospital providers were in advanced talks with NHS England over a new three-month outsourcing contract, which aims to provide a “smooth transition” to longer-term contracting arrangements.

Spire Healthcare Group, one of the large providers involved in the discussions, issued a statement yesterday confirming a new three deal had been struck.

The statement said: “Spire Healthcare, along with other independent providers, has now signed a contract with NHS England to provide a volume-based commitment aimed at reducing NHS waiting lists when the existing contract with NHS England (as varied on 13 August 2020) ends on 31 December 2020.

“This new contract aims to provide a smooth transition for NHS services in England from the current cost-based contract to the new NHS framework for purchasing additional activity from the independent sector. It also allows for the continuation of certain vital services not covered by the NHS framework until the end of January 2021 and ensures the safe repatriation of patients and services back to their NHS Trusts. The new contract has a definitive end date of 31 March 2021 and can be terminated before this by NHSE with six weeks’ notice; the contract also allows NHSE to access further capacity, under certain conditions, in locations where there are a high concentration of covid cases.

“The new contract provides for payment by activity, based on NHS tariff, with minimum value underpins. This agreement will allow Spire Healthcare to continue to treat private patients, whilst supporting the NHS through the winter months, and to transition smoothly to the NHS framework in April 2021.”