Senior executive overseeing 'NHS 111' roll-out to join private health company with the highest number of out-of-hours care contracts


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The Independent Online

The man overseeing the roll-out of ‘NHS 111’ is to join the private health company which today became the single biggest provider of the out-of-hours care helpline.

Care UK is to provide out-of-hours medical care to 15million people across the country after buying key competitor Harmoni, which had many of the coveted NHS 111 helpline contracts.

The roll-out of the NHS 111 helpline – a new service for people in need of urgent medical attention but not an ambulance – has been overseen by Jim Easton, the Department of Health’s national director of improvement and efficiency since 2009.

Mr Easton is leaving his senior NHS post to join Care UK as its managing director.

His move raises further questions about the “revolving door” between government and private sector companies which are benefiting from the outsourcing of public services.

In a letter to NHS managers in June this year Mr Easton, who has 20 years executive experience in the NHS, said: “The Secretary of State for Health and I are fully committed to the delivery of an integrated 24/7 urgent care service, accessed through NHS 111, and that ensures people receive the right care, from the right person, in the right place, at the right time.”

He granted a six month extension for the roll-out, to October 2013, and a handful of contracts are still up for grabs.

Every NHS organisation at local and national level has produced a Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP) plan. These plans detail to the department of health how services will be improved while making required savings of £20bn by 2014/15.

More than half of the QIPPs identified NHS 111 as a key part of their improvement and efficiency plans. Mr Easton is head of QIPP.

The £48million deal is a boost to Care UK’s ambitions after it lost out on a number of the NHS 11 contracts to Harmoni earlier this year. Harmoni has been sold by the private equity company ECI Partners.

Care UK already had more than 50 primary care services including GP and walk-in services, out of hours, diagnostics centres and prison health services, as well as six elective surgery hospitals.

It is expanding fast across England and this new deal includes eleven NHS 111 contracts, three GP health centres and two urgent care centres.

The department of health said “Jim Easton’s appointment to a new job is subject to approval in line with the [Cabinet Office] appointment rules for senior staff moving to new roles in the independent sector. The rules in his case apply for a two year period after leaving. We cannot say any more before an application to take up an outside appointment has been considered under those rules.”

A Care UK spokeswoman said: “Jim Easton has not yet joined the business and has had no involvement whatsoever in this acquisition.“