Private companies dominate 'any qualified provider' contract bids

Nearly half of all providers running services under the any qualified provider (AQP) policy are private companies, DH figures have revealed.

Figures show how hard it is for small providers such as GP practices to compete with companies for contracts. Of the 87 providers running services under AQP in England, 26 are within the NHS, 18 are charities, four are social enterprises, one is a voluntary organisation and/but 38 are from the independent sector.

The number of providers and contracts is likely to increase from the figures taken last month because PCTs are currently advertising contracts on the NHS Supply2Health website.

The DH confirmed that a further 18 providers have been approved by PCTs but are not yet running services. A DH spokesman said the department could not reveal what type of provider these were.

A spokesman for Virgin Care Ltd told GP that the company had been approved by PCTs as a potential provider for ten services. But it has yet to decide whether to bid for services under AQP. He said: 'If we feel that we can make a really positive difference to patient care in those areas, we will look to take those services forward. We are taking a look at AQP but it isn’t our main focus.'

GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘To gain approved provider status requires considerable investment of time and expense. Clearly large commercial organisations have considerable advantage because the process for AQP application is time consuming, expensive and bureaucratic.

‘We have had feedback from GP practices and they have described the process and it does disadvantage small providers. This does pose many questions about the AQP process about whether it can be less bureaucratic and more sensitive to smaller providers.’

Last autumn, the DH expanded the policy to 39 services which include some child and adolescent mental health services, diagnostics and dermatology.

If a service is put out to AQP, providers can be from the NHS, private or voluntary sectors. It leaves the patient to choose the provider of their care from a list, all of which have to be Choose and Book compliant.

One can only wonder as to the impact of private companies on optometry's attempts to compete.

© Dr Rob Hogan 2017