• South East Coast Ambulance Service in talks with CCGs to continue service after March 2019
  • Two NHS 111 procurements were halted by CCGs - one week before announcement was due
  • One deal was discontinued after CCGs examined the responses to a questionnaire by potential suppliers

Two procurements for NHS 111 in the south east have been halted – in one case, just weeks before a new operator was expected to be announced.

The re-procured services in Sussex and Kent and Medway were expected to go live in April 2019 but the current provider of NHS 111 services to much of the area – South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust – has been told the procurements have stopped. It is now in “early discussions” with clinical commissioning groups about how it could support continuity of services after next March.

The two procurements were at different stages. The seven Sussex CCGs had gone out to tender for NHS 111 and clinical assessment services across the county in February and were evaluating responses, with the winner expected to be announced in August.

In Kent and Medway, a pre-qualification questionnaire for NHS 111 services had been published in February but, after the responses were evaluated, the eight CCGs decided to discontinue the process “in order to guarantee that any future contract award for an integrated urgent care service will be able to better demonstrate value for money.”

CCGs in both areas now say they are reviewing their options before deciding what to do next – and whether the process so far will have to be rerun.

In Sussex, the procurement was halted last week because of concerns that more work needed to be done around understanding the service specification and how the eventual provider would work with other services such as urgent care centres.

A spokesman for the commissioners suggested the “market was not ready” and more time was needed to ensure that what the CCGs wanted was understood.

Ralph McCormack, senior responsible officer, said: “Together the seven Sussex CCGs are committed to integrating urgent care across Sussex and getting this procurement right is the vital start needed for integration to be a success.”

The initial contract in Sussex was for five years starting from next April, with the option to extend to seven years with an expected cost of nearly £73m. It was intended to cover NHS 111 and clinical assessment services for the whole of Sussex and Brighton, and home visiting and out of hours services for all CCGs except Coastal West Sussex.

The CCGs had carried out around two years of work on the specification for the tender, including a public survey last year and two market testing events. The existing contract for NHS 111 – held by SECAmb – had been extended for two years until March 2019.

In Kent and Medway, the procurement comes just months after NHS 111 and GP out of hours services in the eastern half of the county were moved to IC24 after another provider withdrew. IC24 also provides out of hours services in West Kent but the NHS 111 service there is provided by SECAmb.