Health department U-turns on plans to privatise staffing agency
NHS Professionals to remain in wholly public ownership after bidding process abandoned
The in-house agency has a bank of more than 90,000 flexible and temporary staff. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA
The Department of Health has abandoned plans to privatise an in-house temporary staff provider after bidders failed to offer enough money for it.
In an unexpected U-turn, health minister Philip Dunne confirmed that NHS Professionals – which supplies doctors and nurses to understaffed hospitals at lower cost than private sector firms – would remain “in wholly public ownership, after offers to buy a majority stake in the company undervalued its growing potential”.
The agency saves the health service £70m a year, Dunne said, and reinvests all its profits into the NHS.
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The government decided to sell off a 75% share in NHS Professionals last November, with the stated aim of “providing it with the extra expertise, technology and investment it needed to work with more hospitals and drive greater savings for the NHS”.
But since then it has seen a significant boost to its financial performance, with pre-tax profits 44% higher in the year to March 2017 than in the previous year.
Dunne said none of the offers received by DH reflected this improved performance.
In a written statement to parliament yesterday, Dunne wrote: “The company’s improved financial and operational performance means it can now invest in improved IT infrastructure, expand its services to the NHS and transform into a world-class provider of flexible staff whilst remaining under public ownership – generating further savings for the NHS, all of which will continue to be reinvested in frontline services.”
His statement does not mention the widespread opposition to the move, with MPs, doctors and health unions having expressed concerns that, in the hands of a private buyer, NHS Professionals would cost the NHS more without improving the service it provides.
A Commons early-day motion calling on the government to immediately halt the sell-off was signed in July by 95 opposition MPs and one Democratic Unionist Party MP.
The agency, which was established by the last Labour government in 2010, has a bank of more than 90,000 flexible and temporary staff who fill more than two million shifts a year in around a quarter of NHS trusts.
The government wants to expand the use of NHS Professionals by other trusts, which currently use more expensive agencies to supply additional staff.
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