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Faster funding for ‘super-surgeries’

The Department of Health is planning to speed up the introduction of private finance schemes to build primary care facilities across England.

Currently around 60 per cent of English Primary Care Trusts are signed up to a Local Improvement Finance Trusts agreement, where a trust forms a partnership with a developer to provide land and funding for new local health facilities.

But with the Government expected to launch plans for a programme of new super-surgeries or ‘polyclinics’, offering a halfway house between a GP’s surgery and a major hospital, the department is looking to accelerate the roll-out of LIFT to the remaining trusts to help build the facilities nationwide.

A DoH spokesman said the LIFT model saved time and money by allowing discussion between developers and trusts at the earliest stages of each project, ensuring the best value in each case. A recommendation on how to proceed with an ‘Express LIFT’ model will be made to ministers shortly.

The spokesman said: “The ability to demonstrate value for money will be at the heart of the procurement of any future LIFT companies under the accelerated procurement.”

LIFT schemes were first introduced by then health secretary Alan Milburn in 2001. A first wave of six LIFTs in Barnsley, Camden & Islington in north London, East London and City, Manchester, Salford & Trafford, Newcastle & North Tyneside and Sandwell were followed by three further waves. So far around Ł1.5 billion has been spent on 160 completed facilities and a further 50 are under construction.

But the model has not been without controversy, with a 2006 Public Accounts Committee report highlighting concerns over the exclusive partnership between trusts and a developer, and whether it could be proved that this provides value for money.

A consultation looking at ways to ensure better value for money by toughening up the business cases required for LIFT projects is underway.