NHS seeks to expand capacity with £10bn contract

by Seamus Ward

16 October 2020

The NHS in England has launched a bid to cut waiting lists with a procurement framework for additional independent sector activity, worth £10bn over four years.

Though the NHS had been failing to meet its performance targets prior to the Covid pandemic, activity has fallen further with the restrictions put in place to protect patients and staff. The latest figures show 4.2 million people on waiting lists in England, with just under half waiting more than 18 weeks and 111,000 waiting more than a year. However, there are some signs that activity is increasing.Theatre l

The call-off framework will be a major part of NHS plans to recover services and, in the first instance, cope with non-Covid pressures this winter. It will allow local clinical commissioning groups and trusts to contract or sub-contract a range of services. The services are: NHS inpatient and day case procedures, including full pathology and imaging; urgent elective care; cancer treatment; diagnostic services; and clinical facilities.

There will be two lots – the first for the provision of clinical services under local and national prices, while the second invites bids for the provision of clinical facilities and related services, allowing the contracting authorities to undertake the clinical activity.

The framework will replace the arrangements in operation since the beginning of the financial year, where the NHS nationally held block contracts with independent sector providers. Recent NHS England and NHS Improvement guidance on arrangements for the second half of the financial year said this would end in October, and be replaced with local commissioning through a national call-off framework.

Providers must meet minimum requirements, but there will be no limit to the number of providers added to the framework. However, NHS England will be able to ‘refresh’ the agreement any number of times – allowing it to check whether providers continue to meet the requirements, while also offering an opportunity to admit new providers to the framework.

The framework agreement will begin on 20 November and the guidance said the national bodies expected it to be used for all independent sector activity funded by system envelopes.