COMMERCIAL: A Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group has voted to serve notice on its community services contract with East Sussex Healthcare Trust after flagging concerns with the current offering.

High Weald Lewes Havens CCG has served 12 months’ notice on its £18m a year community services contract with the financially troubled provider.

The CCG had previously raised concerns with East Sussex over “the access to and consistency of NHS community services”. A report to the commissioner’s March board meeting states that these concerns include “ad hoc and unnotified” closures of the trust’s minor injury service, “inequitable access” to district nursing, and “intermittent closure” of a midwifery-led unit.

The report states that the CCG has tried using “contract levers” to get the trust to improve its offering, beginning with “an initial rectification plan” and “followed by withholding of income and financial penalties.”

East Sussex is also predicting a deficit of £19.4m for 2013-14. The CCG says this financial shortfall could mean “there is a risk that the provider may seek to take short term decisions that reduce the equitable provision of community services to save cost. Equally, there is a risk that services could be deemed, ‘unsafe’ because of staffing issues.”

A spokesman for the CCG said serving notice on a contract was a “normal part of the commissioning process”. The CCG is hoping the 12 month window will give them a chance to work with East Sussex to develop a long-term plan for improving the area’s community services.

However, the board report stated that successful service redesign of the may “include the need for procurement”. Community services in the area are provided under a block contract shared between three CCGs, the other two being Eastbourne Hailsham and Seaford, and Hastings and Rother. Any decision to put the services out to tender would require approval by all three CCGs.

The High Weald Lewes Havens spokesman said: “We want to ensure the services we commission for our local communities are being fully provided and are also keen to invest in improving community services available to residents in the High Weald Lewes Havens area…We look forward to working with ESHT and others in the coming months, and to engaging with patients and frontline staff to develop the right solutions for local people.”

Darren Grayson, chief executive of East Sussex Healthcare Trust said: “We have asked the CCG to set out the actions they will take during the notice period to ensure they have a contract in place for community services by April 2015 and will participate fully in the work required. In the meantime we will continue to take all necessary actions to manage the risks to service provision during the notice period.”