The number of “last resort” arbitrations in contract disputes between commissioners and providers for 2016-17 contracts was almost double that of the previous year, HSJ can reveal.

Gesticulating hands in meeting

Meeting, boardroom

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show the number of arbitrations increased from seven in 2015-16 to 13 in 2016-17.

Formal arbitration is organised when providers and commissioners fail to reach an agreement on contracting and mediation by NHS Improvement and NHS England has failed.

The first stage is judgement by a regional panel of the two regulators. If parties still cannot agree then the issues are referred to an independent panel.

In 2015-16, seven cases were considered by regional panels.

In 2016-17 seven panels were convened and a further six cases were sent to an independent panel. The panels sat in April and May and covered 16 issues.

NHS Improvement would not disclose any details of the location, issues or results of the process. It said doing this would discourage trusts from participating in the process, “particularly NHS foundation trusts, for whom participation in arbitration is voluntary”.

The seven cases in 2015-16 all involved non-FTs.

HSJ has seen the report of one independent review of contracting dispute, between Lewisham and Greenwich Trust and its main commissioners.

The document said an audit had not proved there was a “systematic problem” with the way the trust billed clinical commissioning groups for accident and emergency admissions.

Commissioners had alleged that “inappropriate admissions” coding had included charging for patients who were waiting for patient transport to get home.

No official information is available yet on the current contracting round, covering 2017-18 and 2018-19. NHS organisations were told to agree deals by 23 December and given strong encouragement to avoid arbitration.