Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Caught red-handed!

Avid readers of my Blog, and those with an eye to DH politics, will recall that ACEVO made a formal complaint to the DH Competition Panel about the behaviour of the Great Yarmouth PCT in discriminating against third sector providers.

As the Panel were due to give their verdict The Department of Health pulled the plug on all the tenders in the East of England and told 17 PCTs to start the tender process again. So they effectively stopped the Panel ruling on our claim. Rather sordid manipulation of their process.

We made a Freedom of Information request and now have the results. My formidable Head of Policy "M" has done an analysis of the papers. Here it is. Worth reading for an insight into this somewhat squalid episode. It seems very clear that the Panel were on the point of concluding that the decision of the PCT, following Andy Burnham's "preferred provider" speech would have had" adverse effects for patients and taxpayers". No wonder the DH were keen to squash it.

We now need to ensure that the competition Panel is given independence from political interference. Before the Election I had received a letter from the Prime Minister saying he would like to examine the case for an independent Panel. We will now press whoever is the new Secretary of State to set this up.

Ralph analysis:

1. It is clear the competition Panel (CCP) were going to proceed with the investigation.

The FOI request reveals the CCP had drafted a public decision to proceed with further investigation of our case The minutes say:

"It was agreed that further investigation was needed The Panel decided that it could not dismiss the complaint at the end of Phase 1 and that it would be necessary to proceed to Phase 2"

2. Our case was very strong

The paper submitted by CCP staff to the Panel says "We have not yet had any submissions that argue that the conduct gives rise to any benefits to patients and taxpayers that should be taken into account". It also reveals that the CCP had advised the PCT in question that "it may now be appropriate to suspend the tender process until the CCP review is completed".

3. Phase 2 of the investigation would have been embarrassing for DH

The CCP papers state that in phase 2: "in the event of an adverse effect on patients and taxpayers the CCP will assess whether new policy had been implemented by the Department of Health which amended the scope of the Principles and Rules [of cooperation and competition] or their application to the conduct [of the PCT in question]. The CCP will also assess whether GYW PCT had been following instructions provided by the Department of Health and/or East of England Strategic Health Authority and whether it was reasonable for GYW PCT to follow those instructions".

What this means is that the CCP would very likely have concluded that an "adverse effect on patients and taxpayers" would result from the PCT's conduct, but it wouldn't be able to find against the PCT because that "adverse effect" was the result of DH policy (which the CCP can't question) or because DH policy had changed the rules by which the CCP judges cases. All of which would have been highly embarrassing for DH.

4. DH intervened at the 11th hour

DH intervened at the very last minute. The FOI documents reveal that Gary Belfield, the Director General at DH, met with the chair of the panel the same day that the panel met. This was the day before the Panel was meant to publish its decision to proceed or not. They also reveal that Gary Belfield then phoned in to the Panel's meeting, mid-way through its discussions, to tell them that DH had put a stop to the procurement process in question, thereby making the CCP's discussions redundant.

5. We strongly suspect CCP advice to DH on this (withheld) was critical

Some of what we asked for in our FOI request has been witheld. Namely, correspondence between Gary Belfield (DH) and members of the competition panel. We suspect that in that withheld correspondence, the CCP are critical of DH policy in this area. The response from the CCP justifying their withholding of information here says "the CCP needs to be able to provide... advice in a candid and impartial manner without fear of attracting any criticism of The Department of Health... The CCP should be able to set out all of the pros and cons in relation to the effect of this policy... an obligation to disclose this advice might deter the CCP from providing it".

End of analysis.

All very interesting!! And obviously we are appealing to the FoI Commissioner to get the other paper re the DH 's Director general. Will it reveal the hand of Andy Burnham I wonder?


Leila said...

Brilliant stuff Ralph et al

PPLOG said...

Very interesting good work, especially for myself as I work as a volunteer with Norfolk LINk and Gt Yarmouth and Waveney PCT has been throwing up some concerns.

Is it possible to keep me posted. My e mail (I don't mind it being publicly on here) is: