Plans for a new service to treat patients with minor illnesses more quickly have been delayed due to issues with an NHS procurement process, health bosses told councillors this week.
At a meeting of the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Thursday (June 28), senior figures representing Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in East Sussex explained how proposals to create a number of new urgent care facilities had been pushed back until later this year.
The health bosses said the delay came as a result of a decision to stop a Sussex-wide search for a provider to run the NHS 111 service in an effort to attract a wider number of bidders.
As a result, plans to open new Urgent Treatment Centres (UTCs) – which would provide faster treatment for people with non-emergency illnesses – have been put on hold until the details become clear.
At the meeting, Jessica Britton, chief operating officer for both the Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford CCG and the Hastings and Rother CCG, said: “Because of the stop to the Sussex-wide 111 procurement, we need to rapidly assess what impact that has on our proposals.
“Because the specification and system for our Urgent Treatment Centres was, in part, predicated on some of the proposals within the 111 system, what we’re asking is that we undertake that rapid assessment and resubmit some proposals in the autumn.”
Councillors also heard from Hugo Luck, associate director of delivery at the High Weald, Lewes and Havens CCG. He said: “[NHS 111] is seen by the government as the gateway to a number of urgent care services. Eventually the aim is for patients to be able to book in to see their GP through 111 or to book appointments at Urgent Treatment Centres.
“Certainly since its inception, around five years ago, calls have steadily risen, the public seem more familiar with the number and do tend to use it more.
“But we do recognise that we need to get patients, firstly speaking to someone far quicker through the service and also speaking to a clinician.
“With that in mind the Sussex CCGs have engaged on a reprocurement of the 111 service. There is very little I can actually say about that at the moment because we are at quite a delicate point of the procurement process and I can’t say much because of commercial confidentiality.”
Councillors expressed frustration with the delay and asked for the CCG representatives to return to the committee once more details of the plans could be shared.
Reports presented to the committee suggest the CCGs are looking at opening UTCs at the A&E departments at both Eastbourne DGH and Conquest Hospital.
Plans are also being put forward to convert the Minor Injuries Unit at Lewes Victoria Hospital into a UTC. The plans are likely to involve building work to convert a ward into consulting rooms and see staff numbers increase, Mr Luck said.