Doctors have expressed dismay at reports that an international arms firm is considering a bid for a £1bn NHS contract to run GP support services in England.
American defence giant Lockheed Martin was one of a number of private companies represented at a recent meeting hosted by NHS England, for those interested in taking over the contract, which largely involves administrative functions.
G4S, whose handling of security at the London 2012 Olympics drew widespread criticism, also attended the meeting, as did KPMG and the US law firm DLA Piper. No potential NHS bidders attended, according to the Health Service Journal (HSJ).
The contract, which is likely to be awarded early next year, is one of the biggest ever put out to tender by the NHS.
Leading London GP Dr Louise Irvine told The Independent that it was “shocking” that an arms firm could be awarded such a major NHS contract, and warned that the company could profit from money “taken from front line care”.
“[It is] just as shocking that no NHS organisation was allowed to bid to provide these services, which are mainly back office support for General Practice,” said Dr Irvine, who is standing the general election for the National Health Action Party. “NHS administration systems, with years of experience, are being displaced by organisations that have little or no experience in providing these services.”
Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association, said that the tender was “another worrying example of creeping privatisation in the NHS”.
“How can it be in any way sensible to have a system in place which prevents NHS organisations providing some NHS support functions?” he said. “Doctors have repeatedly raised serious concerns over the continued emphasis on competition over integration, its failure to improve patient care, and the millions wasted on lawyers as commissioners struggle with the significant challenges that competitive tendering has introduced.”
As well as developing military hardware including the F-35 fighter plane, Lockheed Martin already provides IT services to several public sector organisations, and has worked with NHS providers before.
A Lockheed Martin UK spokesperson said: “Our UK workforce already delivers IT systems which protect and enhance our national industry, critical infrastructure and justice systems, enable NATS to navigate more than two million commercial flights safely across UK skies each year and ensure Royal Mail can reliably deliver more than fifty million items to our homes and office each day. We continue to explore further opportunities in the public sector.”
The 10-year contract is understood to be worth more than the current cost of running the services, which currently employ 1,600 people. Bidders have been told they will have to close some offices and invest in new technology, and should expect to bear some redundancy costs, the HSJ reported.
NHS England said it was too early in the contract tender process to comment.
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