A private company that runs health services in Bedfordshire has called in its lawyers to tell local politicians it will not answer their questions.
Bedford Borough Councillor Louise King and parliamentary candidate Patrick Hall were told that as a private company Circle Health does not have to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
Ms King said that the Bedford Labour Group has put in an FOI request questioning why the company has asked Bedfordshire Clinical Comissioning Group for an additional £3.1 million on top of the £125 million that it is being paid to run the county's musculoskeletal (MSK) services for a five year period.
Ms King, who serves as health spokesperson for the Labour group on the council, explained, 'When key local NHS services are privatised, we expect them to come under more scrutiny, not less. We were astonished to receive from a barrister acting for Circle Health saying they would not tell us why it needed an extra £3.1 million because it is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. This is just another example of why this is a privatisation too far'.
NHS-run services can be scrutinised by the public, with anyone able to put in an FOI request.
Patrick Hall condemned the lack of transparency. He added, 'This privatisation in our local NHS has seen funding transferred to private health companies at the expense of Bedford Hospital. Waiting times have increased. Now we learn that not only does Circle Health want more money from the public purse to do the job but that it is exempt from the scrutiny we've long been able to place on our vital local health services'.
A Circle Health spokesperson was unable to comment directly, repeating the company's previous statement: It's completely untrue to say we're trying to get any money beyond our contract. At the start of our contract, there was a backlog of patients waiting for treatment from the old system and the contract covers the costs of getting them their care quickly, making up for delays that occurred before we started work. That's quite different to asking for an increase in our budget. Under the new system, patients receive care faster and have free choice where they're treated'.
This article is based on a report by Tracey Wye which appeared in the Bedford Times & Citizen on 26 March 2015.