• NHS Improvement’s 2016-17 business plan includes priority to “explore” and “facilitate” private sector partnerships
  • Regulator will look at “outsourcing of new, novel or restructured clinical services” and “independent sector management models”
  • NHSI believes private sector can help relieve operational pressures, provide capital and support hospital chains

NHS Improvement is to explore new partnerships between the health service and the private sector, including the potential for further outsourcing of clinical services and the use of “independent sector management models”.

The arm’s length body said the NHS sometimes “underutilised” the private sector and “a new work programme” would examine the “most promising” areas for greater collaboration.

In its 2016-17 business plan NHS Improvement commits to “explore and, where appropriate, facilitate independent sector providers to form NHS partnerships that deliver improvement across the sector”.

The plan says there are “many good examples” of NHS organisations working well with the private sector, which had benefited patients by providing “additional elective care capacity” and “improving access to community services such as hearing services”.

However, it says there are also “examples of independent sector capacity being underutilised and intended benefits for patients not being delivered”.

“We intend to bring together the most promising potential areas for formal collaboration between NHS Improvement, providers, independent sector partners, NHS England and other key stakeholders into a new work programme,” the plan says.

NHS Improvement will look at opportunities in the following areas:

  • “mainstreaming clinical capacity for elective, outpatient and diagnostic care”;
  • “joint ventures and/or outsourcing of new, novel or restructured clinical services”;
  • “joint ventures and novel financing for facilities and/or technology”;
  • “independent sector management models to support capability and leadership challenges”; and
  • “sector studies to advance our understanding of issues affecting NHS and independent sector capacity”.

The business plan builds on last year’s spending review, in which the government said it would “encourage long term partnerships between the NHS and the private sector to modernise buildings, equipment and services, and deliver efficiencies”.

The government said it would back partnerships that “support the upgrade of diagnostics capabilities and the development of new models of care, such as accountable care organisations and hospital groups”.

HSJ understands NHS Improvement feels the health service has to date used the private sector in an ad hoc way and wants to better harness capacity this year to help relieve operational pressures and hit key waiting time standards.

It also sees the private sector as a potential source of capital at a time when it is scarce.

The reference to “independent sector management models” includes NHS hospital chains linking up with companies – including international health networks – to see what they can learn from them in areas such as informatics, HSJ understands.