- Controversial advisory team “closed down”
- Move follows SPT being cited in recent critical official reports on collapse of £750m Cambridgeshire contract
- SPT has been involved in a number of controversial contracts since it was established to advise of the franchising of Hinchingbrooke Hospital in 2009
The NHS’s East of England commercial advisory unit the Strategic Projects Team is to be “closed down”.
The team, established in 2009 to advise on the franchising of Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust, has been associated with some of the health service’s most controversial projects.
An NHS England statement said it had “real concerns about the work of the SPT” following recent critical investigations, and “as a result [it] is going to be closed down as an offshoot of the Arden and Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit”.
The investigations referenced in the NHS England statement were regarding the collapse of a £750m Cambridgeshire older people’s services contract, which was the subject of a National Audit Office report published last week. The project collapsed just eight months into a five year contract.
Investigations by auditors, NHS England and the NAO were critical of the SPT’s role. The NAO cited it as the main adviser “responsible for marshalling the different advice and writing a summary evaluation for the [clinical commissioning group]”.
It said there were “important gaps in the specialist procurement advice” it gave to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG.
The audit commissioned by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG said the CCG and SPT had not required the contract’s provider, UnitingCare Partnership, to submit “parent company guarantees”, despite receiving legal advice which said this was necessary.
The audit identified this as the SPT’s responsibility, and said the lack of guarantees increased the risk to the CCG when the contract failed. The CCG believed its legal advisers would draft the guarantees, the audit said.
SPT managing director Andrew Macpherson said in a statement issued to the BBC that the collapse of the older people’s contract created “some anxiety…Not least, the SPT were increasingly concerned that we were becoming the story”.
However, he robustly defended the SPT’s record. He said: “Our pursuit of commercial grip, rigor and competition on behalf of the NHS has not always been welcomed.
“The SPT has never been ideological in its pursuit of sustainable service excellence. We are a small, passionate, not for profit NHS team and proud of our work. If any of our projects have not gone to term, it has been for reasons of changes in policy or system strategic direction.” (see full statement below).
Other projects the team advised on include: the friends and family test; the reorganisation of pathology services in the East of England; and £1.2bn worth of Staffordshire cancer and end of life contracts. The Staffordshire procurement process was paused following the collapse of the Cambridgeshire contract.
The team also advised on a procurement exercise, which was ultimately abandoned, which investigated the prospect of franchising George Eliot Hospital Trust.
The franchising of Hinchingbrooke was the first arrangement of its kind for an NHS hospital. But the private provider which won the contract, Circle, pulled out of the 10 year deal after just three years after the trust was placed in special measures by the Care Quality Commission.
Full statement from SPT managing director Andrew Macpherson:
“The Strategic Projects Team has since September last year been seeking an alternative host as part of a pre-determined business plan to maintain flexibility and response to ongoing demand for services.
“However, the cessation of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough [older people’s] contact to which we were one of the participating advisory organisations has naturally created some anxiety and delays in approving our future model. Not least, SPT were increasingly concerned that we were becoming the story, albeit it was often poorly informed.
“Our pursuit of commercial grip, rigor and competition on behalf of the NHS has not always been welcomed.
“The Strategic Projects Team has never been ideological in its pursuit of sustainable service excellence. We are a small, passionate, not for profit NHS team and proud of our work. If any of our projects have not gone to term, it has been for reasons of changes in policy or system strategic direction.
“We have always been beholden to organisational governance and regulations of our commissioning customers. We do not set policy and we do not make decisions on behalf of our clients.
“The Cambridgeshire Peterborough OPAC programme contribution was completed to scope and the satisfaction of CCG and bidders. This has been reflected in some of the subsequent reviews.
“We were one of the first organisations, some seven years ago to be part of a then unique local leadership recognition that the NHS might not be sustainable and that the public purse could not be continuously drawn upon without change. Our original mantra of seeking the very best for both patient and taxpayer was to resonate with the subsequent Five Year Plan objectives of thinking like a patient and acting like a taxpayer.
“The growth of our work from a one project team, has been solely by positive referral.
“Nonetheless, at a time when it is even more important that the NHS focus on its immediate future we recognise media speculation on a small business unit such as ours, is an unwelcome distraction from the job in hand.
“We do therefore intend to eventually, quietly ensure that our existing commitments to NHS clients are properly and fully discharged to completion and any expertise and experience is redistributed where it can be best utilised in the future. The logistics of that change remain the subject of ongoing discussion with NHS England.”