The Department of Health is set to abandon a large swathe of its independent treatment centre programme more than a year after it invited providers to bid for the lucrative deals, HSJhas learned.

The Department of Health is set to abandon a large swathe of its independent treatment centre programme more than a year after it invited providers to bid for the lucrative deals, HSJhas learned.

Despite numerous public commitments by health minister Lord Warner that the scheme would continue as planned, it has emerged that a significant chunk of the latest wave will not go ahead.

In April, HSJrevealed that seven of the 24 schemes that formed part of the multi-million pound second-wave elective surgery contract had been axed and the rest delayed by up to a year (news, page 5, 27 April).

At the time the DoH told private providers that the value of the schemes -£550m of work per year - would still be guaranteed. However, sources close to the negotiations said this week that the government had now backed down from this pledge.

A DoH spokesperson said: 'There is up to£550m in current budgets for the independent sector programme. We are committed to using the independent sector to help drive down waiting lists and provide choice. We want to look at options of where it could best be used to the benefit of patients, and schemes are expected to be issued early in 2007.'

The wave-two procurement is divided into four tranches. The Department of Health is thought to be going ahead with the other three, which will total£370m.

The first two contracts are due to reach preferred bidder stage before the end of the year. Renal services provider Fresenius Medical Care is set to win preferred bidder status for an elective contract at 12 sites in the north of England and Clinicentre will operate six sites providing patients with services, including general surgery, orthopaedics and urology, in north London.