Public Services

Whitehall weighs up options for ongoing running of NHS Choices

David Bicknell Published 15 February 2013

Cabinet Office considers future of Capita contract which runs to the end of March

Discussions are continuing over the future of Capita's involvement in the running of NHS Choices.

Capita has a £60m three-year contract to run NHS Choices until the end of March, though there is an option to extend the contract for a further two years.

However, the Cabinet Office has reportedly blocked the renewal of Capita's contract under normal 'value for money' rules that scrutinise any renewal of contracts as part of the Cabinet Office's drive for savings. The government says it has a stringent scrutiny process on all IT contracts over £5m, though there is no automatic block on contracts.

The NHS has said it plans to launch a multi-channel platform dubbed' the daughter of NHS Choices' which will bring together NHS Choices and the 111 non-emergency service so that people will be able to order a prescription or book an appointment with a GP online.

A Department of Health spokesman said:

"The current contract with Capita expires at the end of March and a number of organisations are involved in discussions regarding the future service. This includes the NHS Commissioning Board, Capita, Cabinet Office, Department of Health/NHS Connecting for Health and the current Information Centre.

"We are working to identify the way forward and work through the transfer of staff if required. There will be no adverse impact to service users as a consequence of the planned changes."

In a statement, Capita said:

"Capita plc has delivered the NHS Choices contract for the Department of Health since November 2008, when it was awarded a three year contract with an option to extend for a further two years. Throughout this period, Capita has successfully supported the way the NHS connects with its citizens and clinicians to promote a healthier nation.

"As a result, the contract was extended beyond the original three years for a 15 month period until 31 March 2013, when the new clinically-led NHS commissioning system is due to become operational. The Department of Health is currently reviewing with Capita whether the contract will be extended beyond 31 March 2013. Until a formal decision on the contract has been agreed, it is not appropriate to comment further."

Board minutes from The Health and Social Care Information Centre's (HSCIC) risk register say that "Cabinet Office will not authorise NHS Connecting for Health to renew the NHS Choices contract with Capita. Therefore there is a risk that the HSCIC may need a contingency involving the transfer of the service and staff from Capita."

The board minutes add that a risk mitigating action for HSCIC is to work with the Department of Health, Sponsors and Transition Board to get a quick decision and enable a plan to be implemented by April 2013.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said:

"We want to get the best value for every taxpayer pound we spend in every Government contract, and saved £800 million by renegotiating contracts in 2010-11 alone. Government departments are encouraged to continue to drive competition and innovation amongst a range of suppliers, including SMEs, and must demonstrate that every option to cut waste and make savings are explored, especially when opportunities to review large-scale contracts arise. "

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