• NHS England and the Department of Health have effectively paused the creation of the first NHS accountable care organisations, pending further consultation.
  • Jeremy Hunt says a small number of ACOs may sign a contract “later in 2018”
  • Says proposals from current ACO procurements are “led by NHS foundation trusts”

NHS England and the Department of Health have effectively paused the creation of the first accountable care organisations, pending further consultation.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the ACO contract - published by NHS England in draft last year - would not be put in place in any areas until after the national commissioning organisation holds a consultation in coming months.

He wrote to Commons health committee chair Sarah Wollaston yesterday, in response to a letter from her last week requesting that moves to implement ACOs be delayed pending a committee inquiry. 

Mr Hunt states: ”I expect that NHS England will confirm early this week that they intend to consult on the protoype ACO contract before the contract is used by any [clinical commissioning group]. We anticipate that this consultation will coincide helpfully with the timings of the committee’s inquiry.

“I understand that NHS England’s national public consultation on the draft ACO contract in spring 2018 will seek to explain what ACOs are and are not, and will cover both the terms of the contract and why it is being proposed…

“A few areas… in England are on the road to establishing an ACO, but this takes several years. Following NHS England’s consultation, we anticipate that a small number of sites could be in a position to sign an ACO contract later in 2018.”

He said some changes to legislation, which have been planned to enable to creation of ACOs in the NHS, were due to be enacted next month, but may be delayed in light of the committee’s inquiry and the judicial review which has been launched over the contract. One of two judicial reviews brought by campaigners has a court date listed of 24 April.

Mr Hunt, before the health committee today, said delaying changes to the regulations was “out of his hands” and a matter for the government whips to decide.

In response to concerns about private sector organisations being awarded an ACO contract, Mr Hunt said commissioners were bound by public contract regulations, which were not currently being changed, but “may be something a future Parliament may wish to consider”. He added: “However, the organisations emerging from ongoing procurements to deliver the ACO contract are local NHS organisations (led by NHS foundation trusts), proposing to partner with local GPs.”

HSJ reported earlier this month that one of the most developed ACO proposals - in Dudley, in the West Midlands - would now not commence as planned in spring this year. Commissioners hope to award that contract later this year. The timing of a proposed ACO-type model in the City of Manchester is currently unclear.