Integrated care provider contracts – opportunity or threat?
NHS England is currently consulting on a new Integrated Care Provider contract (ICP). This seeks to commission services on a whole population basis by providing primary, secondary and possibly tertiary health and care services together through one contract. This would result in one single provider being responsible for the majority of healthcare delivered to a locality. Here, we share our views on the impact the ICP contract could have on GP practices.
As currently drafted, it is a condition of the ICP contract that primary care services are included in the scope of the contract. It allows for two routes to delivery: partial integration or full integration.
1. Partial integration
Practices will retain their current GMS/PMS contracts and independent status, but will sign a legally binding ‘integration agreement’ with the ICP provider to support them in the delivery of integrated services.
The idea with this model is that it doesn’t fundamentally change the way that primary care operates today, so is likely to be much easier to achieve. Practices simply formalise the obligations on all parties necessary to achieve a better functioning, more integrated healthcare system, and agree to share the risks and rewards.
There is an implicit assumption by NHSE that a local Trust will hold the ICP contract and that GP practices will be happy to sign the integration agreement with the Trust. In reality, practices would be well advised to obtain legal advice before signing such an agreement, since the current template contains some surprising clauses, such as unlimited liability in the event of certain things going wrong. Any changes should be negotiated with the ICP provider during the tender process, as signed integration agreements are a pre-requisite to winning the ICP contract so this is when practices would have most negotiating leverage.
2. Full integration
In this variant, GP practices would ‘suspend’ their GMS/PMS contracts and instead either be acquired by the ICP provider or subcontract to the ICP provider on terms to be agreed directly between the parties.
This is clearly much more radical than partial integration as it moves primary care towards being a salaried service. There is provision in the standard ICP contract for salaried GPs to be on BMA model terms, but this is unlikely to be much consolation for those that wish to remain as independent contractors. If GPs find that the new arrangements do not work, there is an option to un-suspend their GMS/PMS contracts, but it is not, at present, clear how this would work, since most practices in an integrated model will cease to exist as independent businesses in any meaningful sense.
Other significant changes in a full integration model include:
- Practices will no longer negotiate with NHS England, CCGs or Local Authorities. They will either be subsumed into, or contract with, the sole ICP provider. This largely removes the statutory role of LMCs.
- Whilst there appears to be an assumption that Trusts will usually be the ICP contract holder, there is no reason why this should be the case. Indeed, CCGs will be obliged to offer the ICP contract for competitive tender. This puts primary care in the driving seat, since it is not possible to win an ICP contract without the support of primary care. This makes it highly possible that well organised GP federations or super-partnerships could successfully tender in due course for ICP contracts, or agree to partner up with other public or private partners to do so. Hospitals and other community care providers would then have to subcontract from GPs, not vice versa. This would be an interesting situation as it could provoke accusations of privatisation.
The imminent arrival of ICP contracts has already prompted change up and down the country. We’ve seen hospital Trusts acquiring an interest in local GP practices, which could be a first step towards a fully integrated model. In some areas, the whole locality is actively preparing for the partially integrated model.
One thing is clear, and that is the fully integrated model in particular would represent an enormous change to the way primary care has always worked. Whilst change always presents an opportunity for some, it will inevitably present challenges to others.
If you would like to discuss the ICP contract or any other matters with one of our specialist solicitors, please contact Nils Christiansen on 01483 511555, email@example.com for an initial chat.