• Children with autism in Staffordshire left in limbo after private provider cancels appointments 
  • Midlands Psychology claimed commissioners had told it the organisation’s contract would not be extended beyond 30 September
  • Provider therefore said it cannot offer routine services while also preparing to hand contract over

Children with autism have been left in limbo after a private provider withdrew the majority of its services amid a dispute with commissioners.

Midlands Psychology, a private provider of autism services in South Staffordshire, has cancelled patients’ appointments ahead of its contract finishing on 30 September. Parents were notified in an email from the provider last week, seen by HSJ.

Local commissioners said the provider is contractually responsible to deliver the services until the end of the month, when they plan to have new interim providers in place.

But Angela Southall, chief executive of Midlands Psychology, said the social enterprise was only notified on 30 August that its contract would not be extended.

She told HSJ: “Obviously, we can’t close a service down, with all that entails, whilst at the same time offering a ‘business as usual’ service and continuing to see new people…

“It would just be wrong to bring any new families in to begin an assessment over the next 15 days because they would have to start again from scratch with the new provider.”

Children in crisis situations are still being seen, she added.

The clinical commissioning groups in Staffordshire decided to retender the services following an external review, which is yet to be published, that was critical of both the autism and children and adolescent mental health services in the area.

A procurement process is ongoing and due to end in January. But Midlands Psychology said the CCGs should have retendered the services earlier this year, to ensure a substantive provider was in place by next month. In August, it had expected its current contract to be extended at least until January, to ensure services continued.

In a statement published on Friday, Staffordshire’s CCGs said they are working with “alternative local providers” to make sure an autism service will be in place from 1 October, until the new contract can be awarded.

They said they had recently awarded Midlands Psychology additional funding to support assessments and they “expect patients to have these completed by Midlands Psychology”.

They also said they had been “assured in writing” by the provider it would continue to operate a service.

The CCGs have not yet responded to further questions sent by HSJ, which related to the timescales for the procurement of the new contract.

Over the weekend, a copy of the provider’s draft Care Quality Commission ratings, in which it was rated “good”, was leaked on Facebook by patient representative groups.

In a statement to HSJ, a spokesman speaking on behalf of all Staffordshire CCGs said if a child or young person has been newly referred and has not started the assessment process assessments will be provided by the new intertim provider after the 30 September. 

However the statement added: “If a child or young person has started the assessment process, Midlands Psychology will complete all assessments they are able to up until 30 September.

“Under the terms of the current contract, Midlands Psychology are responsible for all medication and prescribing provision for children and young people already within the service until the contract ends on 30 September 2019.

“The CCGs are in discussions with local NHS providers about delivering autism services from 1 October 2019 and we will be able to confirm details on Friday 13 September 2019.”

This story was updated at 15:45 after HSJ recieved a statement from Staffordshire CCGs.

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