Strategic Projects Team Under Spotlight After NHS Procurement Failures

News from the UK health world as the “Strategic Projects Team”, a specialist unit within the National Health Service, is going to be closed down, according to the NHS England. Well, according to the BBC, which reported that NHS England has now raised "real concerns" about its work, saying the unit will be "closed down".

The SPT has 35 staff and currently sits under the control of the Arden & Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit (CSU), but acts as a pretty self-standing consulting group. It supports health commissioners on large, complex projects where the commissioner doesn’t have the project management, procurement or related capability internally.

The problem is that the SPT has become associated with a number of very high profile failures in the health system. The Hinchingbrooke Hospital “outsourcing” deal with Circle, which failed to deliver on its objectives and ended up with the hospital reverting to public sector management was perhaps the first.

More recently, the UnitingCare contract which collapsed after just 8 months of operation was another issue. It looks like the heavily critical National Audit Office report on that deal which was published this month might have been the final straw for the SPT. There were other projects too which have not been as high profile but may have played into this concern about the SPT, such as the Staffordshire end of life contract which has been put on hold and The Pathology Partnership in the East of England, from which Cambridge University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust "intends to withdraw".

There is a sense if you read the various reports that the SPT judged success in terms of running a procurement process that got a contract in place, and was not challenged by unhappy bidders. Perhaps there was a feeling that if the contract then proved to be unsustainable, then that was someone else’s problem.

Certainly, there were big questions in the case of Uniting Care as to why the commissioners (and their advisers) did not insist on proper “parent company guarantees” or similar, and also around the basic question of how the buy-side actually thought the supplier could deliver for the price quoted. However, we certainly cannot and should not pin all the blame on the SPT. Other professional advisers were at fault in the case of UnitingCare, whilst commissioners and providers themselves have shown considerable commercial naivety (or worse) in a number of cases.

A spokesman for NHS England told the BBC: "In the light of recent NAO and NHS England investigations we have real concerns about the work of the Strategic Projects Team, which as a result is going to be closed down as an offshoot of the Arden and GEM CSU." The SPT's managing director Andrew MacPherson, said the unit had been "seeking an alternative host" since September. He added the team intends to ensure existing commitments are "fully discharged to completion" and its expertise is properly redistributed.

First Voice

  1. Sam Unkim:

    re: expertise is properly redistributed.

    Looking at the results..
    My guess is, and it is a guess, 90% of the affected staff will be management consultants. Will be doing a little Linkedin browsing later to confirm my suspicions

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