Council defends awarding sexual health contract to private providers
By Neil Trainis
Newcastle City Council has defended its decision to award a contract for a sexual health service to two private providers by insisting it extensively engaged with the public before opening the bidding.
The council’s award of the contract for clinical services to Solutions 4 Health and online services to Preventx in July had left unanswered questions around whether a fair and open tender process took place and if any pharmacies or pharmacy groups lodged bids.
The service, which includes support in areas such as contraception, pregnancy testing and sexually transmitted infections, had been provided on the NHS by Newcastle Hospitals Trust since January 2017 but will be in the hands of the two private providers from October 1.
The decision also alarmed public service union Unison, whose head of health Ian Fleming voiced concerns over the impact it could have on public health.
“Unison is disappointed that these services are not going to be provided by the local NHS trust in the future, and the contract has been awarded outside of local public services,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
“Research shows that direct public service provision improves quality for people using services, and of course is good use of public money, as it is being invested back into public services.”
Responding to a freedom of information request from Independent Community Pharmacist, the council said its “extensive engagement with the public about the service they wanted to see commissioned informed the service specification.”
It added: “This service specification then formed part of the legal procurement process, which is based on assessment of the highest scoring tender. This part of the legal process is not a public part.”
The council also said its decision was “legally binding” and insisted there will be “continuous engagement with key stakeholders including the public around how the service is developed.”
However, citing commercial sensitivity, the council did not answer questions such as how many bids in total it received, how long the procurement process lasted, how much Solutions 4 Health and Preventx paid for the contract and if the service attracted bids from pharmacies.