Suppliers challenge ‘anti-competitive’ health policy

23 December 2009 | Jake Kanter

Two separate organisations have hit out at an NHS trust’s decision to block private and third sector suppliers from bidding for a community services contract.

The Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo) and the NHS Partners Network want the Department of Health's (DH) Co-operation and Competition Panel to investigate action taken by Great Yarmouth and Waveney (GYW) primary care trust.

As first reported by SM this month, GYW wrote to potential bidders informing them it intended to put its community services contract out to tender only for public sector health suppliers.

It follows a change in policy by the DH, which issued guidance in October that said the NHS should become the “preferred provider”.

In a letter to the competition panel, Acevo chief executive Stephen Bubb said GYW’s decision would “deny patients service quality and taxpayers value for money”.

“I believe this constitutes anti-competitive conduct which contradicts those elements of the DH’s principles and rules for cooperation and competition. It is clear to me that there is much scope for agents across the NHS to misinterpret the secretary of state’s statement that ‘the NHS is our preferred provider’,” Bubb said.

David Worskett, director of NHS Partners Network – whose members are commercial and not-for-profit suppliers – also complained that the move would affect care quality and value.

The Co-operation and Competition Panel is currently considering the complaints.

David Gollancz, partner at law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, said: “If GYW is letting a contract which falls within the ambit of the procurement rules it's difficult to see a legitimate basis for limiting the class of potential bidders, especially in a way which by definition excludes non-UK bidders.”

The DH refused to comment on how legally robust it is to put NHS providers first in procurement decisions. A source at the department, however, told SM it does not expect GYW’s action to become a recurring situation.

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