• Staffordshire CCGs to press ahead with £1.2bn cancer and end of life care contracts
  • No stand alone NHS provider is bidding for either contract due to be awarded within months
  • NHS England review prompted by collapse of Cambridgeshire’s £750m UnitingCare contract

A major £1.2bn procurement for cancer and end of life care which was “paused” because of the collapse of another similar large contract involving the same lead advisers has finally been given the go ahead by NHS England.

The controversial prime provider contracts in Staffordshire were paused in January after the £750m UnitingCare contract unravelled just eight months into a five year deal.

The UnitingCare contract was also an attempt by commissioners to implement a prime provider model, and was also supported by the NHS’s now axed in house commercial advisers, the strategic projects team.

NHS England said earlier this year it wanted to learn what went wrong with the UnitingCare deal before proceeding with the Staffordshire transforming cancer and end of life care programme.

On Friday programme leaders confirmed to HSJ that NHS England has lifted the pause after internal reviews were carried out and new advisers appointed.

HSJ understands the cancer contract could be awarded within the next two months with an indicative start date of April 2017.

The 10-year contracts include a £687m deal to integrate cancer services in the county with only one bidder left in the process, a consortium led by private company Interserve. The consortium includes University Hospitals of North Midlands Trust and Royal Wolverhampton Trust.

The end of life care contract, worth £535m, has three remaining bidders: Virgin Care, Optum and the Interserve consortium. This deal is expected to be awarded in the autumn of 2017.

The strategic projects team was disbanded in July following criticism in the reviews into the UnitingCare debacle. NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said in September that he was “not…satisfied with the quality of their work”.

The team was also involved in a number of other controversial projects including the friends and family test; the reorganisation of pathology services in the East of England; the franchising of Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust; and the abandoned attempt to franchise George Eliot Trust.

Under the prime provider model, the contract holder will be responsible for integrating and coordinating services across the four Staffordshire CCG areas with an ambition to improve patient pathways and deliver improved outcomes including better quality of life, cancer survival and life expectancy and pain free deaths in a location chosen by the patient.

The CCGs involved are Cannock Chase, North Staffordshire, Stafford and Surrounds and Stoke-on-Trent. NHS England, Staffordshire County Council, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Public Health England and Macmillan Cancer Support are also partners.

Andrew Donald, accountable officer at Stafford and Surrounds CCG and Cannock CCG, told HSJ he was confident the procurement process would deliver.

He said: “We don’t do very well on cancer and end of life care in Staffordshire, you only have to look at the statistics on outcomes to see that. We believe this is still the best way to get the results and outcomes for patients that we want.”

A statement from the transformation programme said: “The UnitingCare contract has been subject to a number of reviews and reports which are in the public domain. Although the transforming cancer and end of life care programme is different in many respects from the UnitingCare contract, there are a number of similarities.

“The programme has therefore during the pause been subject to a number of internal reviews through NHS England. These reviews have now concluded and NHS England has agreed to lift the pause on the programme.

“Commissioners are working on a plan to restart the process and the indicative timelines to complete both procurements. Patients will continue to be involved with the work of the programme and will work commissioners as equal decision makers in meetings with bidders.”