Staff and patients at Withnell Health Centre have won their campaign, – followed recently inThe Lowdown), against Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB), which has now agreed to re-run a procurement process which awarded SSP Health, a large private primary care company the contract to run the health centre in Chorley, Lancashire. 

A spokesperson from campaign group Save Withnell Health Centre said: ‘The ICB informed us today that they have decided to abandon the current plans for Withnell Health Centre and they will instead re-run the procurement process.

‘They will complete this process in 18 months time and until then the surgery will remain in the hands of the current management team under the leadership of our fantastic GP, Dr Ann Robinson, on an 18 month contract starting on the 1st of April 2023.

‘We have been assured by the ICB that there will be a much greater emphasis on patient engagement.

‘This is a huge win for each and every one of the staff working at the practice and for each and every one of you, our truly wonderful patients.’

In a statement, Kevin Lavery chief executive of Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB) admitted that the ICB, and previously the CCG, had not consulted adequately with the patients, staff and local residents and following a “full and robust review of the commissioning process”  the ICB now intends to undertake further engagement with patients and the community in Withnell and launch a new procurement process to award the long-term contract for the service. 

Mr Lavery also apologised for the lack of communication with the public.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the community of Withnell as we

recognise we could have done more to keep patients informed. Going forward we are

committed to doing better with our public engagement and would like to reassure our local population that securing high-quality services remains a priority for the ICB.

The decision by Lancashire and South Cumbria ICB to award a contract to run the well-loved and successful GP practice in Chorley, to SSP Health, a large private primary care company, was first uncovered by patients and staff in January.

The whole process of choosing the new contract holder by the ICB had been conducted with virtually zero input from the public despite the ICB’s constitution proudly boasting that it will “put the voices of people and communities at the centre of decision-making and governance.”

The only information received by the patients about the process was a single letter sent out in February 2022, saying the CCG has awarded a temporary contract to Dr Robinson for 12 months as “the least disruptive option for all parties” and there should be “very little to no impact on patients as a result of this change.”

The letter also reassured patients that they “should not be concerned about the future of the practice” and “the 12-month period will now be used to undertake all of the necessary due diligence steps required before a longer-term contract can be awarded.”

A campaign for the ICB to revisit the procurement process led by local councillors, GPs and local people began in January as soon as it came to light that the GP, Dr Ann Robinson, would lose the contract.

Over 1,500 written objections to the SSP Health takeover were delivered to the ICB and as part of the campaign, Margaret France, a retired GP and now a local Labour councillor and Chorley Council’s lead member on shared services, joint working and community wellbeing, met with Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle. Sir Lindsay has “made contact with the Integrated Care Board to ask for this decision to be reviewed and for all concerns raised by local residents to be addressed before any further action is taken.”

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