A contract to allow healthcare company Netcare to provide clinical assessment and treatment services (CATS) across Cumbria and Lancashire has been delayed after local primary care trusts decided to consult on some details.
The decision comes following pressure from Unison, which had been calling for a judicial review of the way Netcare was chosen as preferred bidder for the£30m CATS contract by the Department of Health's commercial directorate in July. The union said it had not been subject to consultation by the region's five PCTs and NHS North West.
Unison decided against the move after lawyers for the DoH said that any such action would fail on the grounds that public consultation was not obligatory as the contract was procured nationally on behalf of the health secretary.
But this week Ian Cumming, North Lancashire PCT chief executive and lead for independent sector commissioning across Cumbria and Lancashire, told HSJthat the PCTs had 'decided to take the opportunity to revisit [CATS procurement] and are planning an engagement and consultation phase'.
'We will look again at the actual activity level we require now from the CATS service 18 months on from the original modelling, and we will be asking if the original assumptions are still valid before we sign any contractual agreement with anybody,' he added.
The contract has been dogged by criticism from local stakeholders after concerns were raised that awarding the contract to Netcare would be anti-competitive as the company could refer patients to its own Greater Manchester surgical centre.
However, Mr Cumming said the decision to offer the services to Netcare would not be part of the consultation.
In January, private providers were invited to bid for the work to provide CATS in general surgery; musculoskeletal; ear, nose and throat; gynaecology; and urology.
If Netcare secures the contract it is set to provide 222,000 procedures in outpatient, diagnostic and surgical services in Carlisle, Preston, Fylde Coast, Ulverston, Pendle, Ormskirk and Workington.
Unison North West regional representative Tim Ellis said that the union had 'grave concerns' about patients who would be 'left in the lurch' if they were not referred through a CATS centre.
'What will happen to the diagnostic scanners and the expertise of the NHS clinical teams who will disappear?' he asked.
'Who will act as the gatekeeper on where patients go [for treatment]? This will either fall to the NHS as the employers or to Netcare itself,' he warned.
Netcare director of operations Julia Eadie said the company was not concerned about the delay. 'As far as we are concerned it is all still going ahead,' she said.