Labour is demanding an inquiry into the privatisation of a government-owned NHS recruitment firm that saves hospitals £70m a year.
NHS Professionals helps the health service in England tackle its staffing crisis by arranging for doctors and nurses on its books to cover potentially harmful gaps in rotas.
Labour has asked the National Audit Office to look into why Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, is selling a profitable and effective company his Department of Health owns. The firm should be kept in public hands and allowed to continue playing a key role in alleviating widespread NHS understaffing, the party says.
Justin Madders, the shadow health minister, has written to Sir Amyas Morse, the comptroller and auditor general who heads up Whitehall’s spending watchdog, asking him to intervene before a sale is finalised, possibly as soon as next month.
“On the government’s own estimates NHSP saves the taxpayer around £70m a year by organising last-minute or replacement staffing for NHS trusts in England, and ensuring hospitals don’t have to rely on expensive private agencies”, Madders writes.
He wants the NAO to “examine the business case that has been produced [by the DH] to ascertain a better understanding of what additionality the private sector can bring to what on the face of it is already a successful organisation.”
NHSP supplies staff cheaper than those obtained through private agencies which Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, has castigated for charging “rip-off” rates.
It is thought ministers hope to realise about £50m for a 75% stake in the firm, which supplies staff to more than 100 hospitals around the UK. Staffline, one of the employment agencies hospitals use to find stand-in staff, is thought to be among those bidding to buy NHSP.
Madders is also concerned that if the DH finalises the sale by the end of August, when parliament is not sitting, MPs would be denied proper oversight of the deal. “This deal is being pushed through behind closed doors”, he says in his letter.