The county’s newest NHS body is facing legal action after a not-for-profit enterprise lost bids to provide out-of-hours GP services.
Northern Doctors Urgent Care Ltd (NDUC) has filed a High Court claim against three CCGs (clinical commissioning groups) in the North of Tyne area – including Northumberland.
NDUC has provided the service across the region for the past nine years, but since the introduction of the CCGs in April last year, four of them (Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle North and East and Newcastle West) decided to re-procure.
The tender was divided into three lots – Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland – and while NDUC was the recommended bidder in North Tyneside, it missed out in the other two lots.
A recent report on the Health Service Journal website suggested that the North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust was the recommended bidder in Northumberland, although the county’s CCG was unable to confirm this as the awarding of the contract cannot take place while the legal action is ongoing.
Documents seen by the Gazette show that NDUC claims that ‘the basis of the decision to award the contracts for Lot 1 and Lot 3 (...) was conducted in breach of the Public Contract Regulations 2006 and/or the key principles derived from the Treaty for the European Union’.
It adds that ‘the claimant also claims that the defendants failed to conduct a proportionate, transparent and fair process for the Tender’.
The paperwork also mentions a separate claim relating to the CCGs’ refusal to exercise its discretion to accept for evaluation purposes documents submitted after the deadline, which is said to have affected the decision too.
It concludes that Northern Doctors claims ‘1. An order to abandon the Tender process; 2. Further or alternatively, damages; 3. Interest, costs and such other relief as the Court considers appropriate’.
A spokesman for Northern Doctors Urgent Care Ltd confirmed that they were taking legal action, but could not say any more.
“We hope to be able to issue a statement soon, but we have taken legal advice, so we have to listen to that,” he said.
Pamela Leveny, head of commissioning for NHS Northumberland CCG, said: “We have been carrying out a procurement to appoint a provider for out-of-hours GP services for Northumberland, alongside CCG colleagues in Newcastle and North Tyneside.
“The previous contract had been in place for nine years and we’re aware that the type of out-of-hours GP services that our patients need have changed.
“So we needed to re-procure to ensure that the service specification met these needs.
“The procurement process has been very thorough and robust and is fully compliant with the relevant procurement legislation.
“Since concluding the procurement, a legal challenge has been made by Northern Doctors Urgent Care – which prevents us from awarding the contract at this time.
“We are now urgently considering the legal challenge, along with the CCGs in Newcastle and North Tyneside – and are not able to make any announcements about the outcome of the procurement until the legal issues are resolved.
“We would like to reassure the public that they can continue to access out-of-hours GP services as usual through NHS 111.”
The news comes on the back of changes to daytime cover at Alnwick Infirmary.
In May last year, the Gazette reported that The Infirmary Drive Medical Group had given six months’ notice to Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to end its daytime emergency cover at the infirmary, while night and weekend cover was to continue to be provided by NDUC.
In October, it was announced that two new nurse practitioners were to start at the hospital, while GPs from Infirmary Drive were to continue to provide support at the minor injuries unit.