Published: 15/01/2004, Volume II4, No. 5888 Page 7

Private firms are to be brought in to run national shared financial services centres, following signs that the shared service concept is back on the Department of Health's agenda.

The government wants to entice the private sector into a series of joint ventures with the NHS, with long-term plans to expand the number of centres from two - currently based in Leeds and Bristol - to five or six.

A goverment tender was placed in the Official Journal of the Eruopean Union at the end of last month, asking for firms interested in becoming part of a public-private partnership to 'fund, manage, operate and expand' shared financial services contracts. The decision comes as Richmond House officials suggest that trusts could be facing a new series of cost-saving targets for so-called 'back-office'work.

DoH head of physical capacity Peter Coates recently told the Healthcare Financial Management Association: 'If I was a betting man, there will be targets for cost savings around shared financial services, shared common services and human resources services.'

The future of shared services was thrown into doubt last year when the government decided not to force trusts to transfer their financial services work to the national shared services centres.

But the government believes the involvement of private firms would bring in both cash and expertise, making them a more attractive option to trusts.

One local shared services senior manager told HSJ: 'I think the problem is that the two pilots have been left with a huge amount of spare capacity - especially when you look at the number of staff they involve - and there is no obvious way to fill it if trusts are not signing up.'

He said new 'targets' around cost savings would produce an incentive for trusts, including foundations, to use shared service centres.