COMMERCIAL: NHS South Gloucestershire has given notice of plans to put £80m of community services out to tender. Commentators predict other primary care trusts will soon follow suit.

The PCT “parked” the services with North Bristol Trust for two years last April under the Transforming Community Services programme, which required PCTs to divest their provider arms by that month.

It has now published prior indicative notices for contracts for 35 community services worth £14m-£16m in total and for learning disability services worth £70m-£80m. Both are anticipated to be five-year contracts running from April 2013.

Previously only NHS Surrey has put its community services out to tender, awarding the contract to Assura Medical over NHS bidders and a social enterprise.

NHS North Yorkshire and York tendered for the provision of mental health services and awarded the contract to Leeds Partnerships Foundation Trust.

Robert McGough, partner at DAC Beachcroft LLP, predicted to HSJ that many more community services would be put out to tender as initial contracts let under Transforming Community Services, most of which were for about three years, approached their expiry date.

Last year, market analysts Laing and Buisson predicted the private sector could secure a fifth of the £8.5bn community services market by 2016. However, Mr McGough said the relatively short contract periods being offered may not attract the private sector.

“It’s very hard to get proper investment unless you have a longer-term contract,” he said. “If you’re constantly going through the tendering process it’s very expensive and not the most efficient way of ensuring you get the best service.”

South Gloucestershire’s notice says community services, including a minor injury unit and district nursing, will be tendered in the second quarter of 2012.

According to the business plan produced ahead of the transfer to North Bristol, the preferred long-term option was for the community services to become a social enterprise.

However, a decision was taken to place them with the acute trust temporarily after “evidence from elsewhere” showed ensuring sufficient time for staff engagement provided the best chance of moving the services to a social enterprise.