The Scottish Government today banned private contractors from tendering for catering and cleaning deals at NHS hospitals with immediate effect.
In a guidance note to Scotland's 14 health authorities, John Matheson, director of health finance at the Health Finance Directorate, stated that cleaning and catering played a key role in the delivery of clinical services in the NHS in Scotland.
"The Scottish Government believes that NHS Scotland should therefore be responsible for the direct delivery of these services wherever possible," said Matheson.
"Accordingly the cabinet secretary has announced that all cleaning, catering and clinically related soft facilities management services in NHS Scotland clinical premises are to be exempt from contracting out in future schemes whether funded through public private partnerships or not."
Existing contracts for the provision of services are not affected by this guidance. Last year Scotland spent £46m on catering at its 64 general hospitals, although this figure includs both public and private caterers.
The policy change was unveiled at the Scottish National Party conference in Perth this weekend by Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.
The secretary claims bringing catering and soft service in house are the only effective way to eradicate super-bugs, such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile from Scotland's hospitals.
Food service consultant Julian Fris said: "In principle a brave decision, which I suspect has come out of frustration with inconsistent quality received from contract service providers and the Trusts' inability to effect change particularly in PPP/PFI.
"In the short-term, this initiative will win the ‘hearts and minds' of patients and hospital staff alike. In the longer run, I'm not convinced that they will be able to effectively contain costs and maintain standards. They need to have strict performance management systems in place and be wholly accountable for overspends, quality standards and so forth."
A spokesman for contract caterer and facilities management company Sodexo said: "We are disappointed that NHS Scotland have made this decision, and do not recognise the value that outsourcing such services can offer".
By Chris Druce
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