The NHS in Kent and Medway have paid more than £6million to private consultants to help put together a plan to overhaul health services across the county.
Kent campaigners Diane Langford and Julie Wassmer carried out a year-long investigation, sending numerous Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, to confirm private consultancy Carnall Farrar received payments for work on the Kent and Medway Sustainability & Transformation Plan (STP).
Former NHS executive Dame Ruth Carnall is a partner in the consultancy. She was also Independent Chair of the Programme Board of the Kent and Medway STP. It is one of 44 regional bodies put in place by NHS England to implement cuts and savings within the health service.
Dame Ruth no longer holds that position. Since November 2017 former Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust CEO Glenn Douglas has been the Independent Chair.
Author and campaigner, Julie Wassmer said she raised concerns with then-Canterbury MP Julian Brazier over Dame Ruth’s chairmanship in the light of her also being part of the company carrying out the STP contract.
She added: “At the same time, I was aware that my colleague, Diane Langford, had already been coming up against a wall of obfuscation in trying to discover how much that contract was worth and who was actually making the payments.”
Ms Langford, a writer and former Hansard transcriber, said: “I actually submitted my first Freedom of Information request in December 2016, then dozens more to all eight Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Kent and Medway as well as to Kent County Council (KCC) and NHS England in order to try to establish who was paying Carnall Farrar.’”
Eventually the campaigners, with the help of research organisation Spinwatch, found that £6,051,199 of NHS money had been paid to Carnall Farrar by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.
Following a meeting between the pair and Mr Douglas and STP programme director Michael Ridgwell the full expenditure has now been published on the Trust’s website.
Mrs Wassmer said: “This is public money. NHS funds being diverted away from services and into the pockets of private consultancies. We know that over £6 million, and possibly more, has been paid from the local NHS budget to one consultancy for barely 18 months’ work on the local STP. How much more is going to management consultants across the whole of the UK? It’s almost impossible to hold the system to account and I fear it will only be worse with the impending introduction of so-called Accountable Care Organisations.”
Health chiefs say Dame Ruth’s STP board position was agreed because a neutral chairmanship with no links to any Kent organisations was required.
A spokesman added: “Carnall Farrar was appointed to support the programme via a competitive procurement process, adhering to NHS principles and best practice, including any declarations of interest.
“Carnall Farrar has had no statutory or procurement decision-making role and was not involved in any decisions around funding for external support”
They also revealed the main contract with Carnall Farrar will end in March, although they will continue to carry out some work already underway, including on stroke services.
Chief executive and chair of the Kent and Medway Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP), Mr Douglas said: “External consultants have been brought in by the Kent and Medway STP to contribute their expertise, capacity, skills and experience of delivering large-scale change programmes.
“Areas where they are contributing in particular are modelling and analytics; strategy development; and programme management.
“They are working closely with medical and other directors, chief executives, clinical chairs, social care leaders and teams of health and social care staff across all the organisations involved.
“But these in-house NHS and social care staff are all also doing their substantive, full-time jobs; leading and delivering the day-to-day work of health and social care services in the county. They do not have the time, nor necessarily the experience and specific skillsets needed to deliver this work within the timescales required, without additional external support.
“The Sustainability and Transformation Partnership in Kent and Medway is extremely cost-conscious and has invested only where it has been absolutely necessary.
“Through this work, we are starting to design new ways of working and delivering services that will save the NHS locally millions of pounds and, at the same time, improve the health and wellbeing and meet the care needs of vulnerable residents for years to come.
“All spend has been declared on the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust website but it should be noted that Carnall Farrar were a sub-contractor of another company initially so not all spend was directly received by or attributed to them. In the interests of transparency, all spend with Carnall Farrar has now been clearly published.”
What is the STP?
The STP, created by Kent and Medway health trusts, the NHS, Kent County Council and Medway Council, sets out proposals to overhaul the health system, including changes to GP surgeries and hospitals, in a bid to save health services in Kent and Medway some £292million.
Proposals under discussion include changes to accident and emergency services, with one option being to centralise them at a new Canterbury hospital; the introduction of three hyper acute stroke units for Kent and Medway– meaning current services will be removed from some hospitals, including QEQM in Margate and proposals for three GP ‘practice groupings’ in Thanet, each serving between 30,000 and 60,000 patients,
Vascular, renal, head and neck; urology; haematoncology and gynaeoncology in patient services, as well as trauma care, may also see centralisation.
Dr Coral Jones, GP, vice -chair of Doctors in Unite and member of Keep our NHS Public says the proposals mean a downgrading of services at hospitals including QEQM in Margate that “will put lives at risk.”
She criticised the hyper acute stroke unit proposals, saying: “Patients in Thanet and all those in East Kent living miles away from Ashford will be at risk of death, or avoidable disability.”
But health bosses say the changes will be beneficial and include more support for people to leave hospital and be cared for in their own home; appointments on time; quality hospital care and better access to advice.
They say hyper-acute unit proposals will eventually reduce costs because patients will be diagnosed and treated faster, needing less care after they leave hospital and suffering less disability. They say the plan will also reduce deaths with each option allowing at least 98 per cent of people in Kent and Medway to access a hyper acute stroke unit by ambulance within an hour.
Hyper acute unit meeting
A Joint Committee with delegated authority from the ten clinical commissioning groups in Kent, Medway, Bexley, and High Weald Lewes and Havens will meet on January 31 to discuss the acute unit shortlist.
The joint committee is public and takes place from 1pm to 4pm at County Hall, Sessions House, Maidstone.
If you would like to attend, book your place by first registering via https://strokejcccg.eventbrite.co.uk .
If you do not have access to the internet and would like to book a place, call the Joint Committee admin office on 01892 638331.
Booking is essential as space is limited.
Save Our NHS meeting
The proposals, along with those that have been outlined for A&E services in east Kent, will be discussed by NHS campaigners at a meeting in Broadstairs this month.
The Save Our NHS event will be held at the Queens Road Baptist Church in Broadstairs on January 27 from 10.30am until 3pm.
It will be hosted by Thanet Trades Union Council.
The programme for the day:
11.00-11.45 Opening session: Rosie Duffield MP, Dr Bob Gill, Dr. Coral Jones, Cllr Karen Constantine, Jacqui Berry (Health Campaigns Together and Unison executive) Green Party health spokesperson Larry Sanders
11.45-12.30 Workshop: Sustainability and Transformation Plans: What are they? With Dr. Bob Gill and Ken Rogers (Concern for Health in East Kent)
12.30-1.00 Lunch break/networking
1.00-1.45 Workshop: Mental Health – with Jane Hetherington and Dr. Dick Symonds
1.45-2.30 Feedback and questions session with Dr. Andrew Paul Thompson and others.