NHS England plans to cut jobs and close offices in its primary care support services just weeks before it plans to announce the winning bidder of a £1bn contract to take over the function.

The rationalisation process could lead to over 300 voluntary and compulsory redundancies, from a total workforce of around 1,800. Nine offices running the services are to be closed under the proposals.

Work

NHS England’s primary care support services will be outsourced via a competitive tender

NHS England’s PCS function is to be outsourced via a competitive tender. The contract will be worth up to £1bn over 10 years. Capgemini, Equiniti and Capita are leading the three shortlisted bids for the contract, which is due to be awarded after the general election in May.

The final bids were due to be submitted last week.

The services include back office functions that are essential to the functioning of NHS GP, dentistry and optician services. They include:

  • maintaining practice lists;
  • administrating prescription payments, pensions and medical records; and
  • running screening programmes.

HSJ understands the changes are intended to make the service more efficient in the short term, before the winning bidder takes over in the summer.

NHS England has a goal to cut the running cost of the services by 40 per cent from 2013-14 levels, to around £60m a year by 2015-16. In 2013-14, primary care support cost £100m to run, and NHS England’s forecast spending for it in 2014-15 was around £84m in the middle of the financial year.

Completing this cost reduction will be an important task for the winning contract bidder.

The latest reorganisation has prioritised areas where there was a “large and complex estates map which could be rationalised”, and where there were high rates of application for voluntary redundancy.

Documents published on NHS England’s intranet suggest that the nine office closures could lead to up to 338 redundancies. Of these, 184 were applied for voluntary redundancies, meaning there could be up to 154 compulsory redundancies. In five of the nine offices, more than half the staff applied for voluntary redundancy.

As work will be consolidated into a smaller number of offices, these sites will need to increase staffing levels through redeploying existing employees or hiring new agency staff.

Consultation on these redundancies is ongoing. As a result, the exact number of job losses, the associated upfront costs and the ultimate value of savings generated by the office closures are not yet known.

Two offices are earmarked for closure in London, along with one each in Lancing in West Sussex, Newcastle, Chester, Shrewsbury, Stoke on Trent, Coventry, and Worcester.

This latest round of closures comes on top of plans announced in December to close four primary care support offices, leading to 200 job losses.

HSJ asked NHS England how it would assure that it would not close the offices that the three tender bidders planned to keep open.

A spokesman said: “Our proposed changes to the service have been shared with the bidders in the procurement.”

He added: “NHS England is currently consulting with staff about proposed efficiencies to the service which will mean the closure of some PCS services offices.

“Services will be relocated and temporary staff may be needed to support existing staff to ensure services are not affected.

“We expect to have these changes completed by July. PCS services customers will continue to receive the same professional service that they have today.”

NHS England is currently carrying out a wider internal restructure, aimed at reducing costs and making it work better. A consultation was launched in October but the organisation has not yet confirmed its new national structure.

From Wednesday, NHS England’s 27 area teams will be replaced by 15 sub regional teams, which will work more closely with each other and with its regional teams. This part of NHS England’s restructure is understood to have led to around 300 redundancies to date.