The must-read stories and debate in health policy and leadership.


So we are closer to a winner on one of the biggest commercial contracts in the NHS — the £150m a year contract to provide pathology services across a swathe of south and central London.

Germany-based firm Synlab beat out north London challenger HSL and incumbent Viapath to be named preferred partner for the 15-year deal at two Shelford Group trusts (Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust and King’s College Hospital FT) and one of the capital’s most prestigious specialist trusts, plus two mental health trusts and primary care.

HSL will live. It already runs pathology services for University College London Hospitals FT and Royal Free London FT, with a brand-new facility in St Pancras. It was always doubtful whether it would win a contract to provide the services for south London’s biggest providers, although it is thought it was top-ranked of the three bidders at an earlier stage of the assessment carried out by the south London procurement team.

For Viapath, the situation is much more serious. The company was created in 2009 to run the labs at GSST and King’s and it subsequently won a bit more work in Bedfordshire. But the latter contract is soon up and now it is likely losing its core business to boot. 

It could issue a challenge (the company’s statement did not rule this out and there have been some indications the long procurement process has been storied) but here is where its unusual ownership structure comes in.

It is owned one third by Serco and one third each by King’s and GSTT.

It is weird enough that the co-owners of one of the bidders are part of the bid assessment team — how this conflict of interest has been mitigated has never been disclosed — but it would be very strange for the trust’s representatives in Viapath to opt to spend two-thirds public money on issuing a legal challenge to another part of their own organisation.

There’s an app for that (if you’re in Wolverhampton)

Babylon has announced plans to partner with Royal Wolverhampton Trust and launch “digital first integrated care” across the region.

This is the digital primary care provider’s second collaboration with an NHS trust, after HSJ revealed plans to work with University Hospitals Birmingham FT in May last year.

However, the work Babylon plans to carry out with RWT is unique. The partnership will aim to provide digital healthcare across all the trust’s integrated services. This will mean patients can access NHS primary, secondary and community healthcare services through a single app.

There are also plans for remote access to GPs and hospital specialists, real-time monitoring of patients with chronic conditions and rehab following a hospital admission, along with a focus on using artificial intelligence to support patients, particularly with symptom checking and creating personal health plans.

Babylon has sparked controversy in the past with its digital GP appointment model, with some doctors complaining it cherry-picks younger, healthier patients.

CEO of RWT, David Loughton, told HSJ there has been strong support among GPs based in the trust’s primary care network — made up of 10 practices — for the Babylon partnership.

However, he added he expects some backlash from other GPs in the area, adding: “They don’t like Babylon. They see Babylon as creaming off the not very ill and [being] left with the not very fit.”