Alternative provider of medical services (APMS) legislation enables private commercial firms to provide NHS primary care. There is no central monitoring of APMS adoption by primary care trusts (PCTs), the new providers, or market competition.
The aims were to: examine APMS contract data on bidders and providers, patient numbers, contract value, duration, and services; present a typology of primary care providers; establish the extent of competition; and identify which commercial providers have entered the English primary care market.
Design of study
All PCTs in England.
A survey was carried out in March 2008 gathering information on the number of APMS contracts, their value and duration, patient numbers, the successful tender, and other bidders.
A total of 141 out of 152 PCTs provided information on 71 APMS contracts that had been awarded and 66 contracts that were out to tender. Of those contracts awarded, 36 went to 14 different commercial companies, 28 to independent GP contractors, seven to social enterprises, and two to a PCT-managed service; one contract is shared by three different provider types. In more than half of the responses information on competition was not disclosed. In a fifth of those contracts awarded to the commercial sector, for which there is information on other bidders, there was no competition. Contracts varied widely, covering from one to several hundred thousand patients, with a value of £6000–12 million, and lasting from 1 year to being open-ended. Most contracts offered standard, essential, additional, and enhanced services; only a few were for specialist services.
The lack of data on cost, patient services, and staff makes it impossible to evaluate value for money or quality, and the absence of competition is a further concern. There needs to be a proper evaluation of the APMS policy from the perspective of value for money and quality of care, as well as patient access and coverage.
Keywords: commercial sector, competition, primary health care