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The King's Fund, one of Britain's leading charitable institutions working on healthcare policy, has formed a partnership with Humana Europe, the regional subsidiary of a large US health insurer that bids for NHS commissioning contracts.
Humana Europe is widely believed to be on a Department of Health shortlist of approved companies eligible to bid for commissioning work from primary care trusts. Under the terms of the agreement with the King's Fund, the company will provide £30000 (€45000; $60000) towards the cost of seminars that NHS officials will attend.
A health policy expert, Tom Granitir, from Humana's Kentucky based parent organisation will also be seconded to the fund as an adviser in a joint public health project, focusing on encouraging healthy lifestyles.
Daniel Reynolds, a spokesman for the King's Fund, said the charity was “dipping our toe into the water” of partnership with private enterprise on an experimental basis. “Private companies are playing an increasing role in the NHS, and we have to accommodate that reality,” he added.
The £30000 payment would not compromise the fund's independence, he said. “Some people have asked us if this means we're running out of money. We aren't, and even if we were, £30000 would hardly go very far.”
Rebecca Rosen, medical director of Humana Europe, who previously worked at the King's Fund and remains a senior associate of the charity, said that Humana hopes to capitalise on its reputation for changing patients' behaviour in the United States through incentive based schemes.
One Humana programme in the US provides insured patients with pedometers that can be plugged into a computer, allowing patients to claim air miles on a website in exchange for exercising. It also recently launched health coaching and online support for people signed up to its insurance policy, including support in tobacco cessation, weight management, physical activity, stress management, nutrition, and back care.
Humana is seeking contracts with primary care trusts to improve health among schoolchildren and could launch a similar scheme here, offering rewards in the form of sports equipment from a participating sponsor, she said.
The joint project will also examine ways to help employers encourage healthy lifestyles among their staff, she said.
Dr Rosen acknowledged that there is suspicion about US healthcare companies seeking NHS contracts. “But no one is proposing bringing US-style health care to Britain,” she said, noting that Humana was only seeking commissioning and consulting work, not the actual provision of primary care. “It would be very sad if people rejected new ideas just because they came from America,” she added.
The chief executive of the King's Fund, Niall Dickson, indicated that further partnerships with private industry might be on the horizon: “The King's Fund is developing a range of initiatives within the corporate world, and, like our work in the public and voluntary sector, this is an exciting opportunity to share knowledge and develop fresh ways of working. Our research on how individuals can change their health behaviour comes at a critical time when the need for us all to become more engaged in our own health and health care has never been greater. This is an area where Humana have led the way in the US.”