The Department of Health has launched ExpressLIFT, a new national procurement procedure for primary care premises – but there is no new money being made available.

The scheme offers to extend access to the existing LIFT (Local Improvement Finance Trust) scheme, to all primary care trusts who want to make use of it. To date, about half of primary care trusts (PCTs) in England have used LIFT to build and finance new, modern GP surgeries, health centres and walk-in centres. PCTs should be able to use the ExpressLIFT scheme from January 2009.

LIFT uses private sector finance (as in the private finance initiative – PFI - for hospital redevelopments). However, since the credit crunch, the terms of lending will obviously have worsened significantly. This may of course be offset by reduced construction costs due to the slowdown in the housebuilding industry.

Interesting timing
The timing is also interesting in the Government’s ongoing battles over increasing access to primary care with polyclinics. A report in the Sunday Telegraph showed that 1/3 of PCTs were not planning to consult their populations about plans for new polyclinics.

The national framework will list approved private sector partners with a track-record of delivering the services required of a successful LIFT Company. The framework aims to accelerate the procurement process and reduce costs to bidders compared to the current process, cutting the length of time for completion on bids to four to five months (depending on the number of bidders), with local procurements from the framework able to be completed within about four to six weeks rather than two years, as is currently the case.

Mark Britnell, Director General, Commissioning and System Management at the Department of Health said, "LIFT has proved highly successful, allowing Trusts to upgrade inadequate or ageing facilities around the country and address the historic legacy of underinvestment in NHS primary care facilities. Allowing the LIFT scheme to rapidly expand will enable more Primary Care Trusts and local authorities to take advantage of its benefits - faster builds, improved working conditions for staff, better care environments for patients, and better overall facilities available for the local community.

"Only the best companies will make it onto the framework list and we know that private sector developers will welcome this development, both because of the potential future work and the quicker and cheaper procurement process."