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Sarah Lepak, Head of Policy and Compliance at the BHTA

Following the recent publication of a government whitepaper, which set out how NHS and local authorities will have a statutory duty to collaborate, the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) has explained what this means for procuring services for patients.

The document focuses on integrated care systems (ICSs), breaking down barriers to accessing health and social care separately, and building on lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, such as accelerated adoption of assistive technology.

The whitepaper stresses the importance of collaboration between the local system, NHS, local authorities, the voluntary sector and others to improve the health of local areas.

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Crucially, the document says that procurement processes should only go ahead if they add value to patients, moving away from the notion of procuring services that deliver the biggest cost-savings.

This could mean that patients receive better services that are focused on improved health outcomes and are centred around the idea of preventative healthcare.

Explaining in more detail what the whitepaper means for tendering services within the NHS, Sarah Lepak, Head of Policy and Compliance at the British Healthcare Trades Association, told AT Today: “Contrary to reports in the media, the document does not abolish competition and tendering of services.

“The stated intent is that the NHS will only have to go out for tender where there is clear potential for better outcomes for patients; it also states that the current procurement regime will be replaced and contracts may be for longer periods of time.

“In theory, the breaking down of barriers between health and care (and between different health silos) is good news for industry, particularly where it supports a focus on better outcomes for patients in areas such as faster hospital discharge where our sector excels.”

Throughout the whitepaper, the need for greater collaboration is consistently mentioned, underlining how this will bring about improved outcomes for local populations and provide more seamless services.

This shift towards greater collaboration has been seen throughout the pandemic, particularly between traditionally competing services providers.

In March, following detailed discussions, leading outsourced community equipment service (CES) providers Medequip Assistive Technology, NRS Healthcare, Millbrook Healthcare and Ross Care, alongside the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA), agreed to work collaboratively to maximise continuity for local authorities and the NHS throughout the current Covid-19 outbreak.

The move saw the CES providers work closely together during the crisis to aid in the national effort and help maintain vital services.

Optimising planning and sharing information to ensure these organisations were able to provide maximum support for their services, senior directors from each business held weekly conference calls to discuss key areas such as activity levels, geographical pressures and availability of qualified staff.

Similarly, the BHTA also brought together several leading Wheelchair Services (WCS) Providers to ensure the needs of wheelchair users are met during the crisis.

The group encompassed the majority of the UK’s leading Wheelchair Services providers, including NRS Healthcare, Ross Care, Blatchford, AJM Healthcare, Millbrook Healthcare and Ability Matters.

By working together, the WCS Providers, which would normally compete for hotly contested contracts, helped relieve NHS pressures and ensure continuity of services for wheelchair users.

At the time, the group of outsourced providers also liaised with other wheelchair groups, along with regional in-house services, in a bid to mitigate wheelchair users’ problems relating to ongoing assessments, deliveries, service and maintenance.

Sarah continued: “The triple aim stated in the document echoes BHTA’s mission for ‘better health, better care and better value’.

“The emphasis is on making integration of services easier, with a shift from mandating “coordination” between NHS (and other) organisations, to mandating “collaboration” instead. A seemingly subtle change perhaps, but an important one and the first step in the government’s plans for social care reform about which we should finally hear more later this year.”

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