• NHS England to commission probe into Cambridgeshire contract collapse.
  • The £800m contract was terminated just eight months into a five year deal.
  • The investigation will scrutinise the role played by the Strategic Projects Team.

NHS England is to commission an investigation into the dramatic collapse of an £800m flagship NHS contract in Cambridgeshire, HSJ has learned.

The investigation will cover the “circumstances leading up to the termination of the contract between Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group and UnitingCare Partnership”, a statement by health minister Lord Prior said.

The investigation will also scrutinise the role played by the Strategic Projects Team, the NHS’s internal commercial advisors, which advised on the contract and has been involved in a number of other significant and controversial procurements.

The news was disclosed following a parliamentary question from Labour’s deputy leader of the opposition in the House of Lords, Lord Hunt. His question specifically asked how the Strategic Projects Team would “be held to account” for its role in what unions called a “calamitous” affair.

The CCG and NHS-owned provider released a joint statement earlier this month announcing the termination of the five year contract after just eight months.  It said they had reached agreement that the outcomes based contract for the provision of older people’s services across the county was not “financially sustainable”.

Lord Hunt’s question read: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government how the NHS Strategic Projects Team is to be held to account for the advice it gave to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG, and to the NHS Commissioning Board, on the contract for older people’s services in Cambridge and Peterborough.”

Minister for NHS productivity Lord Prior’s written answer said: “NHS England advises that it will be commissioning an investigation into the circumstances leading up to the termination of the contract between Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG and UnitingCare Partnership to deliver urgent care for the over 65s and adult community services.

“This will include the role of the Strategic Projects Team. NHS England is also considering how similar contracts will be managed and assured in the future.”

The Strategic Projects Team, which has a mission statement of driving “change from within”, carries out board meetings in private. NHS England has refused to release the team’s board papers. It is hosted by the Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit.

The team has advised on procurements including the franchising of Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust; the East of England pathology services reconfiguration, and the £350m national PET-CT imaging services re-procurement project.

David prior

Lord prior

The Cambridgeshire contract was one of the biggest ever put out to tender by the NHS and was won by UnitingCare, a joint venture company owned by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and Cambridge University Hospitals foundation trusts, in October 2014. 

After a costly and protracted procurement, 1,400 staff transferred from Cambridgeshire Community Services Trust to Cambridgeshire and Peterborough FT under the deal. 

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CCG chief clinical officer Neil Modha, said: “The CCG will be conducting an internal review to begin shortly and advice from other parties will form part of the review. We will of course work closely with NHS England on any review that they commission. Our current priorities are to ensure continuity of services following the ending of the contract on 3 December.”

UnitingCare and the Strategic Projects Team have also been invited to comment by HSJ.