Four clinical commissioning groups in north east England have scrapped a near complete procurement process for their GP out of hours services after a legal challenge by one of the bidders.

The challenge came from Northern Doctors Urgent Care, a social enterprise and the incumbent service provider, after it was named as the recommended bidder for just one of the three lots into which the work had been split.

The organisation has provided the service over the whole area for the last nine years.

Under the original procurement Northern Doctors is understood to have emerged as the recommended bidder for the North Tyneside and Northumberland lot but not the other two: Newcastle North and East, and Newcastle West.

HSJ has learned that an out of court settlement has now been agreed between the CCGs and Northern Doctors.

Under the settlement the social enterprise will remain in charge of the service until new arrangements are set up.

In a joint statement, the four CCGs - Newcastle North and East, Newcastle West, North Tyneside, and Northumberland - said the process was being re-run because “the NHS world has changed significantly since this procurement process commenced”.

While the CCGs would not confirm the length or value of the contracts, HSJ understands each of the three contracts is worth approximately £3m and will run for four years.

HSJ understands North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust was the recommended bidder for Northumberland, while a joint bid from Gateshead Community Based Care Limited and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust was recommended for Newcastle.

A statement issued on behalf of Alistair Blair, chief clinical officer for Northumberland CCG, said the procurement’s specification had been designed by the former primary care trust.

“In Northumberland we have a major new emergency care hospital opening next year which will significantly reshape emergency care across the county,” it added.

“Also, a major development is that the CCG from April next year will be able to co-commission primary care with NHS England.

“The opportunity to commission seamless in hours and out of hours GP services is one that we simply can’t afford to miss. 

“It’s for these reasons we’ve decided to halt the procurement as we believe it’s in the best interests of the patients of Northumberland.”

Newcastle Hospitals chief executive Sir Leonard Fenwick said of the decision: “It is disappointing and generates uncertainty. We shall be seeking clarification from the CCGs [about the reason for the change and their future plans].”

Northern Doctors declined to comment.