Valuable learning from jointly commissioning a one-stop shop for sexual health services by Liz Rodrigo

Posted 02 Apr 2014

Date: 02 Apr 2014

Author: Liz Rodrigo

This content was originally published on the MEDFASH website as an e-feature on 2nd April 2014 and it is reproduced here with kind permission by MEDFASH.

A new integrated sexual health service for the population of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland opened in January this year. Three local authorities - Leicester City Council, Leicestershire County Council and Rutland County Council – jointly commissioned a one-stop shop for sexual health services including contraception, genitourinary medicine and sexual health promotion and prevention. The contract for providing the new integrated service was awarded to Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent Partnership NHS Trust, after a rigorous tendering process. In this month’s eFeature, Liz Rodrigo, Public Health Principal at Leicester City Council shares valuable learning from this process with input from Janet Hutchins, Senior Public Health Manager at Leicestershire County Council and Kim Knight, Interim Service Manager at Staffordshire & Stoke on Trent Partnership NHS Trust.

It was on a cold January day more than two years ago when I first heard that two of the local providers of sexual health services for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland had given notice of their intent to withdraw their services from the health and local authority sector. Confirmation of this from Janet Hutchins, my colleague in Leicestershire County Public Health, started the biggest and most challenging learning curve of my career.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 gave local authorities the responsibility for commissioning open access sexual health services, potentially providing an opportunity to make service improvements for patients. Janet and I had tried for years to get an integrated sexual health service and our work in the previous six months with Pathway Analytics [i] had provided evidence that implementing the integrated tariff route would be cost saving. With this in mind, and after much soul searching, Janet and I both recommended to our respective Directors of Public Health that we should develop an integrated model for sexual health across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Here’s how we did it.

Getting the mandate

Commissioning sexual health services was still the responsibility of the shadow Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) up to 1st April 2013. A Programme Boardwas set up with representatives from the three CCGs [ii] and three local authorities. This Board agreed the procurement of a full integrated sexual health service, which would include the youth sexual health service and chlamydia screening. It was also agreed that it would not include HIV treatment and care.

We received some criticism about this but, as the latest PHE [iii] bulletin points out, NHS England commission a provider based service making joint commissioning difficult and potentially limiting any competition. Indeed, at the time of decision making there was no clarity about the use of section 75 for collaborative commissioning of sexual health and HIV services.


A Clinical Engagement group was set up with local lead clinicians in genitourinary medicine and contraceptive services, local GPs with an interest in sexual health and nurses involved in primary and secondary care. This group developed the model. The meetings were facilitated by external clinical and non-clinical facilitators provided by MEDFASH to ensure impartiality and credibility with local clinicians. Wider opportunity for input into the model was also provided via the local multi-agency sexual health network.

The needs of the areas were provided by sexually transmitted infection (STI) data, contraceptive data and information from service reviews including the views of young people. The public health departments were central to providing this data. The areas had very different needs. Leicester is a large urban area with a culturally diverse population, high under-18 conceptions and high HIV prevalence. Leicestershire and Rutland counties both have rates of under-18 conceptions and HIV prevalence that are below national averages.

Market engagement

A market engagement event was held to inform potential providers of the proposed procurement process (including timescales) and to consult on options being considered (such as the inclusion of managing sexual health Locally Enhanced Service (LES) contracts). This received positive feedback and is likely to have increased the bids received.

Service specification

The model developed is an integrated sexual health service from level 1 to 3. This includes chlamydia screening, a young people’s service, a sexual health network and training.
An external clinician was commissioned to look at clinical standards as part of the process to develop the model. There were initial difficulties identifying a clinician from out of the area to prevent conflicts of interest and with expertise in integrated sexual health.


The Programme Board was chaired by public health, which would be moving from NHS to the Local Authority during the procurement timespan. The three local authorities were briefed and agreed to commission jointly. The steering group had legal, finance and procurement leads. It was agreed that rather than one from each LA there would be one of each representing all LAs, with responsibility for feeding back to colleagues in the other LAs.
The CCGs agreed that this was a transitional commissioning issue. Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit (CSU) was asked to lead on the procurement process, and a project manager was appointed.


The changes in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 have resulted in different parts of sexual health being commissioned by different parts of the public sector. In commissioning a new service that did not include HIV, terminations of pregnancy (TOPs) or vasectomies, it was important to ensure that clear patient pathways would continue. To aid this a small steering group was set up to ensure that these were addressed by new commissioners.

Ongoing education and training of medical and nursing students

The original services provided specialist registrar training in GUM and Community Sexual and Reproductive Health. For the future sustainability of these specialties it was considered important that the training arrangements continue with any new provider. This needed to be included in the specification and required work with the Local Education and Training Board (LETB) including a review of the quality standards within the provider bids.

Tender Selection

A clarification event was held for the potential providers to present their bids to two panels – a main panel representing the full procurement team and a panel of young people. At the end of the interviews the young people presented their findings to the main panel. This was an excellent presentation and a process that we would recommend. Selecting the provider was undertaken by the full team including representation from the LETB, CCG Quality department, human resources and the external clinician.


Once the new provider had been selected there was a Mobilisation Group set up and work streams to ensure the safe transition to the new provider.

The main issues that needed to be considered were:

  • Transfer of undertakings (protection of employment)(TUPE): this was a new model, new provider and there had been three previous providers. TUPE legislation means that the new provider is not entitled to have all the information about the transferring staff up until a period of between 14 to 90 days before the start of the new service. This makes planning and service changes difficult to implement from the beginning of the contract period.
  • Assets and Buildings: the new provider did a full clinical and safety audit of the buildings that were used and decided on a way forward. We had mandated one of the main hubs in a LIFT (Local Improvement Finance Trust) building. The identification of ownership was an issue.
  • IT and information: this continues to be an ongoing problem. A shared IT database with the HIV service was agreed. This ensured one patient record between the two services, and was subject to a data sharing agreement.
  • Pathways: Working across three CCGs meant going to three sets of meetings to get pathways agreed and hoping that they would all make the same decision. At the same time CCGs had new staff and were taking on the commissioning of services that they had not commissioned before e.g. abortion and vasectomy services.

The new integrated service started on 2 January 2014. There have been some initial teething problems as happen with many services.

But, what went well?

From the commissioners’ perspective:

  • The specification was well written and based on needs assessments and standards. We also had mandated the main premises and made a strong recommendation for others. The ‘Heads of Terms’ arrangements for premises were included in the tender document, which was helpful.
  • The Clinical Engagement group was a positive element as was the youth involvement in the tender process
  • Working across local authorities was time-consuming and required extensive negotiation but overall it strengthened the process and brought more capacity and expertise to the table.

From the provider’s perspective following the award of the contract:

  • There was genuine partnership working between provider, commissioners and CSU which meant better planning and collaboration to provide services in the right places and the building of new supportive working relationships with all relevant partners.
  • Good project management. Having an overall project manager from commissioning enabled any barriers to be unblocked quickly.
  • Early engagement of IT project management after tender was awarded.
  • A good level of engagement from outgoing provider staff to ensure a smooth transition to the new provider. It was identified early that some of the current clinic locations would need to be moved as other venues were deemed more suitable. The lead nurse was very supportive and played a big part in the implementation of new clinics

What could have been improved from the provider’s perspective?

  • Improved access to staff who are being transferred under TUPE into the new provider organisation. TUPE legislation meant that we were unable to involve the staff as much as we would have liked to whilst we were designing the future of the new integrated service which created a degree of fear and unrest. 
  • The identification of ownership of assets as soon as the tender is awarded.
  • Despite a planned communication approach between commissioners and the provider, there were barriers to distributing updated service information to a wide range of professionals. Being able to work more closely with staff who were being transferred under TUPE into the organisation would improve the delivery of key messages and ensure that posters and leaflets are delivered to the right places.
  • Due to the contract start date (1/1/14) moving staff was problematic as many staff were on annual leave and many suppliers closed down for an extended period over the Christmas holidays.
  • Due to new IT systems, moving of venues and identification of assets, it was challenging to deliver a service on 2 January. It would be useful to have a more gradual transition and have the opportunity to implement the new systems whilst running alongside the existing ones which would enable staff to be more involved in service development prior to the opening of the new service.

Would we do this again?

Yes. There are always challenges in change but also huge opportunities. The tender process is complicated and time consuming and it brings up a lot of emotions for staff who are being transferred under TUPE, as there is much fear of the unknown. However these negatives are outweighed by the positives of being able to make beneficial changes and provide a service which meets the needs of service users, professionals and the wider public.
The new service being provided in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland will continue to improve and we will work through any further challenges together to ensure the needs of service users remain at the core of any future developments.

[i] Pathway Analytics is a management consultancy that specialises in evidenced-based economic analysis for healthcare.
[ii] Leicester City CCG, West Leicestershire CCG and East Leicestershire & Rutland CCG
[iii] HIV, sexual and reproductive health: current issues bulletin 3: Commissioning HIV services, DH/PHE February 2014