Chorley GP WILL have to compete to keep control of surgery she has led for over 10 years

A competition will be run to decide the future of a Chorley village surgery which has been led by the same popular GP for more than a decade - amid an attempt by some of her patients to get the government to halt the process.
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Dr. Ann Robinson wants to continue running Withnell Health Centre, but her position at the helm of the Railway Road facility has been in doubt for over two years after the dissolution of a previous partnership.

The NHS has now decided how it will award a new contract for the operation of the practice, opting to undertake a competitive tendering process in which bids are invited from potential providers of the service.

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Local health bosses say it is the fastest way of ending the uncertainty surrounding the surgery, after a previous procurement exercise was abandoned last year because of deficiencies in how patients were consulted.

Withnell Health Centre GP, Dr. Ann RobinsonWithnell Health Centre GP, Dr. Ann Robinson
Withnell Health Centre GP, Dr. Ann Robinson

However, a group pushing to keep Dr. Robinson in her post says the latest decision makes a mockery of the further 12 months of consultation carried out since - and is asking the health secretary to intervene.

Louise France, a member of Save Withnell Health Centre, told the Lancashire Post she felt locals had been “misled” about their influence over the decision regarding which procurement route would be used.

Dr. Robinson, speaking to the Post last week, said she believed the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB) could directly award the new contract to her - without the need for a competition - if it was “prepared to be a bit braver”. She has been the principal GP at the health centre since 2013.

Withnell Health Centre has been at the centre of a row between patients and NHS bossesWithnell Health Centre has been at the centre of a row between patients and NHS bosses
Withnell Health Centre has been at the centre of a row between patients and NHS bosses
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However, a report presented to the organisation's primary care commissioning committee on Thursday reiterated legal advice received earlier this year that the direct award option was not open to it because of the value of the contract involved.

The report noted that the competitive procedure that has now been selected offers an “opportunity to involve patients in the evaluation process” of the bids that are ultimately received.

Ann Christopher, chair of a steering group established to represent the health centre's patients, told the LDRS that it is only then that they can exert their collective influence - over the final choice of provider, rather than the procurement options themselves.

“We hadn’t got any say over [the route] - but we have been reassured we will be involved in the [rest of] the process and will be on the evaluation panel. So the ICB can’t really do any more than they are doing,” Ms. Christopher said.

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The commissioning committee was also advised to rule out the option of attempting to identify for itself all potential operators and selecting the “most suitable” of them, in view of the fact that only two providers had expressed an interest in the surgery during a market-testing exercise undertaken late last year.

In a statement issued after the decision was taken, ICB chief operating officer Professor Craig Harris said: “Based on consideration of all procurement routes and the associated published guidance, we believe that this is the option which will give the quickest route to securing the best outcome for Withnell Health Centre and its patients and staff.

“The ICB has engaged widely with the local population and the feedback will make a valuable contribution to the competitive procedure. The committee was clear that it is important the new evaluation process - which we have developed with [the] involvement of the patient steering group - is used. [That] involves local people and embeds learning from the procurement process in 2022.

“We recognise the concern within the community and the potential impact on staff and patients - and this decision provides an opportunity for a potentially quicker resolution within the timeframes we have set out, while ensuring we follow due process for equity and fairness,” Professor Harris added.

Dr. Robinson’s interim contract to operate the surgery ends on 30th September.

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