Vital community health services risk being tangled in bureaucratic contracts and face serious cuts unless the government steps in.
That is the warning from the Community Network, which represents NHS and other organisations providing life saving services in communities across England. Its leaders have written to the Secretaries of State for Health and Social Care and for Housing, Communities and Local Government calling for a pause to time-consuming retendering of local authority contracts during the COVID-19 emergency.
In the letter, co-signed by the chief executives of the Community Network’s hosts the NHS Confederation and NHS Providers, health leaders say local government’s £9.2bn income shortfall this year will damage local authority-funded public health and community health services and they predict significant cuts will inevitably follow.
The letter says competitive tendering will be a damaging distraction as community staff still grapple with the pandemic, aftercare for COVID-19 patients, restarting non-COVID services and planning for winter. It adds: “It is not reasonable or feasible to expect NHS staff and services still operating in a Level 4 incident to divert time and energy to take part in competitive tendering processes this financial year.
“Put simply, this is not the time to risk making qualified nurses redundant, or to damage morale by creating an unnecessarily uncertain future for any of our frontline NHS staff who continue to risk their own safety to support the NHS response to the pandemic.”
The NHS Confederation and NHS Providers call for a long-term solution to make sure that NHS community services commissioned by local authorities are funded to meet Agenda for Change pay increases and pension costs – if not they say jobs may be at risk.
Andrew Ridley, chair of the Community Network and chief executive of Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Now is not the time for distracting retendering processes, much less the threat of cuts and job losses, at a time when providers of community health services are facing greater demand for services, as well as significantly more to come at the end of the lockdown period.”