Fears that up to 3,500 children in County Durham could lose out on speech and language, and occupational therapy services have been raised by Unite, the country’s largest union.
Unite believes that financial pressures on the NHS are pushing the local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to seek new providers, possibly from the private sector, who will provide speech and language therapy services at a reduced cost from 1 October this year.
Unite regional officer Martin Wright said: “The problem with the current service specification as outlined by the CCGs is that they are saying that the new speech therapy service will see 2,000 children during its first year.
“However, the three existing services are currently seeing somewhere in the order of 5,500 children. How is this shortfall in service provision going to be made up? That’s the issue that should be sparking real concern amongst parents and the Durham public.
“The root cause for this is the £20 billion of so-called savings being sucked out of the NHS during the course of this parliament.”
In January 2013, Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield CCG, and North Durham CCG said they were going to terminate the contracts of existing service providers - three local NHS foundation trusts and one private sector provider - for the paediatric speech and language therapy and paediatric occupational therapy services.
During the commissioning process, all NHS bidders were told that their bids did not meet the financial criteria and that there were two unnamed private sector bidders whose bids were being considered further.
It then transpired that those bids were not acceptable either and the CCGs had no choice, but to extend the contracts of those providers who had been delivering the service
In February, the CCGs announced that they were going to try again to re-commission these services with a revised ‘financial envelope’.
Martin Wright said: “We believe that the bidding process which is currently underway in County Durham will lead to significant reductions in the services being provided to the public – and could open the gate for a cost cutting private healthcare provider.
“I do not believe that the CCGs responsible have done anything like the level of public consultation required where there is to be a reduced service offered in the future.
“Currently there are three different NHS foundation trusts and a private provider involved in delivering this service across the county.
“My understanding is that they currently have about 5,500 children and young people on their books that might need input from a therapist at any time. The new service, which is due to start on 1 October, has capacity to see only 2,000 children and young people – less than half that of the current service.
“This is a very clear case of a massive reduction in the size of the service being procured by the CCGs, following last year's failure of the commissioning process.
“Our members are extremely concerned, not just for their terms and conditions, but for the children in their care. We believe that there will be children in the coming year whose needs will go unmet because of the changes these CCGs are making to the service.
“This is a real wake-up call for the Durham public.”
Unite has recently adopted a leverage campaign to exert maximum pressure to keep the NHS public.
For further information please contact Unite regional officer Martin Wright on 07768 931 242 and/or Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693 940
Notes to editors:
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.