Companies bidding to win a place on the government's list of approved commissioning support suppliers are questioning whether rival bidder McKinsey has been given an unfair advantage.

Companies bidding to win a place on the government's list of approved commissioning support suppliers are questioning whether rival bidder McKinsey has been given an unfair advantage.

Two weeks ago HSJ revealed that McKinsey is bidding for a place on the government?s list of approved commissioning support suppliers (news, page 5, 21 September).

Now it has emerged that the consultancy was hired by the Department of Health last year to ?scope out? the extent to which a market could be created in commissioning services ? and that in doing so it sought advice from companies that it is now bidding against.

In August 2005, the DoH asked McKinsey to assess the feasibility of creating a market for commissioning services, by using private sector companies to offer expertise to primary care trusts.

HSJ understands that a number of private sector companies, which are now bidding for the work, provided McKinsey with information on the understanding that the company was working on behalf of the DoH. On that basis the companies revealed confidential information in order to assist the analysis. As a result, McKinsey drafted an internal DoH document, called Creating a Market for Commissioning Services.

Aside from McKinsey, other companies hoping to be added to the framework include UnitedHealth, Bupa, Tribal Group, US healthcare insurance company Humana and South African insurer Discovery.

A source at one of the companies which has put in a bid confirmed that they held discussions with McKinsey in January this year, with the understanding that the management consultancy was working on behalf of the DoH.

A source at another company also approached by McKinsey earlier this year said they disclosed company information to the US consultants as part of discussions.

'We understood that they were carrying out an analysis of the market, but we never expected them to then put in their own bid,' they said.

The discovery of McKinsey's role in scoping the potential of the market before putting in their own bid has angered public sector unions.

Unison head of health Karen Jennings said that the union would be writing to parliamentary Labour Party chair Aann Clwyd to ask her to investigate the protocols and procedures in McKinsey's work with the Department of Health.

The DoH is currently evaluating bids for inclusion after private companies concluded the first stage of the bidding process in August by completing the DoH's commercial directorate pre-qualifying questionnaire. The questionnaire states that bidders should notify the DoH of any actual or potential conflicts of interest in their responses.

It also states that the DoH 'reserves the right to exclude bidders from the procurement process should actual or potential conflicts of interest be found to confer an unfair competitive advantage on one or more of the bidders or to otherwise undermine a fair and competitive procurement process and, following consultation with the bidder, such actual or potential conflicts are not resolved' to the satisfaction of the department.

A spokesman for McKinsey said there was no conflict of interest or unfair advantage gained from the company's scoping work for the DoH and its bid to be added to the framework list. 'We do not believe that our previous work for the Department of Health gives rise to any conflict of interest or any unfair competitive advantage in relation to our current bid to do work under the framework agreement,' he said.

'If such a situation were to arise on a specific piece of work under the agreement in the future, then we would take appropriate steps to protect against conflict or withdraw from consideration.

'We assume that any framework agreement put in place with McKinsey or the other competing firms will address any such potential conflicts,' he added.

A DoH spokesman said the department 'will look into all potential conflict of interest issues to ensure no-one has an unfair competitive advantage. As we are in the middle of the procurement process, it would not be appropriate for us to comment on any individual bidder at this stage.'