DHSC to pay search firm £1m for interim staff to set up Hancock's new health body

Five interim staff will fill finance-oriented roles at the National Institute for Health Protection
Dido Harding, interim chair of the NIHP and health secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

An executive search firm is set to receive nearly £1m providing temporary staff to set up the new National Institute for Health Protection.

The Department for Health and Social Care has signed a 10-month contract with Hunter Healthcare Resourcing Limited worth £962,830 to provide interim staff to the NIHP – the replacement body for Public Health England.

The company will fill five finance-oriented roles for the organisation, plans for which health secretary Matt Hancock announced last year. The organisation will tackle health threats such as infectious diseases and will combine the "talent and science infrastructure" of PHE with NHS Test and Trace and the work of the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Hancock said.

The jobs include a deputy director who will be tasked with setting up the NIHP transition team function. The team is made up of staff from DHSC, PHE and NHS Test and Trace and will “support the design of the new NIHP and the transition to the new organisation”, according to a strategy document published last year.

The deputy director will ensure the transition team is set up to write business cases; review the budget-setting approach, preparations for the 2021 Spending Review and the transition to the NIHP; and manage the recruitment of permanent staff.

They will also provide “support, advice and robust but constructive challenge to policy stakeholders and arm’s-length bodies” and routinely advise on complex and strategic policy issues.

Hunter Healthcare will also hire a grade-6 business case writer and coordinator; a finance project management office lead – a senior civil service post; a grade-7 change management support; and a senior executive officer finance assistant.

Work began on 11 January, three weeks before the contract was signed, and will run until mid-October.

Last month, Dido Harding, who leads NHS Test and Trace and will also lead the replacement organisation in its first months, said “much of the build phase” for the NIHP was complete.

Baroness Harding said hiring of civil servants to test and trace had been ramped up, partly to enable the organisation to reduce its reliance on the private sector. However, she has defended its extensive use of external consultants, saying it has been necessary to draw on "all the talents across all of society".

The £39bn test and trace programme has attracted criticism for this spending – which includes £563,400 paid to McKinsey & Company to help define the future of the organisation, before the decision to roll it into the NIHP.

The recruitment contract for the NIHP has been awarded under a framework that enables public bodies to hire non-clinical temporary and fixed-term staff. The jobs DHSC is seeking to fill are categorised in the contract as finance, accounts and audit roles.

Among other things, the finance project management office lead is expected to set up the finance PMO function, hiring staff, reviewing budget approaches and supporting the delivery of NHS Test and Trace’s top priorities for the last quarter of 2020-21 ahead of the NIHP's inception.

One of the business case writer's responsibilities will be to ensure the business case requirements set out for test and trace in 2021-22 are “accurately captured and clearly explained” within NIHP’s finance case.

Hunter Healthcare’s website lists senior management, interim leadership and project management office appointments among the services it provides to healthcare companies and NHS bodies.

The website claims the specialist knowledge and project management teams it provides can "standardise and introduce economies of repetition in the execution of key projects in healthcare", and promises to provide interim leaders that can "proactively and rapidly steer healthcare organisations and departments on a positive course".

Asked why DHSC had opted to use a consultancy to fill the positions, a department spokesperson said: "As part of our pandemic we have drawn on the extensive expertise and resources of public and private sector partners, and this is completely in line with procurement regulations for exceptional circumstances."

They added: “Creating the National Institute for Health Protection is an opportunity to level up the UK’s capabilities and amalgamate expertise from Public Health England, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and NHS Test and Trace to help us respond to future threats with a razor-sharp focus on health protection.”

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