Published: 17/04/2003, Volume II3, No. 5851 Page 11

Talks with overseas and private UK companies that are bidding to set up and run diagnostic and treatment centres for the NHS are due to begin this week.

The Department of Health has issued an 'invitation to negotiate' to a shortlist of consortia bidding for 18 contracts to build, staff and run DTCs treating NHS patients.

HSJ sources named Afrox Healthcare and Netcare International from South Africa; Nuffield Hospitals, BUPA and BMI from the UK; Capio; German Medicine Net; and a Johnson and Johnson subsidiary from the US.

BUPA and BMI confirmed that they had been shortlisted: the other companies would not make any comment.

The list was whittled down from more than 50 companies that expressed an interest in bidding for these potentially lucrative contracts. Some withdrew - including US giant Amsurg, which was not prepared to staff DTCs with American doctors - but others were ruled out.

There are 18 contracts up for grabs. Ten are for stand-alone DTCs that will be in refurbished or new buildings. They are being negotiated by Burton Hospitals trust, Nottingham City primary care trust, Basildon PCT, Bristol South and West PCT, Daventry and South Northants PCT, Mendip PCT, Plymouth PCT, Greater Manchester strategic health authority, North Bradford PCT and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital trust.

Eight are for 'chains' that will offer procedures at different sites.

Of these, three are ophthalmic chains that may involve mobile eye surgery units and five are general, surgical and orthopaedics projects.

The shortlisted consortia have been invited to negotiate with project managers across England based in PCTs and SHAs. The Department of Health has employed commercial advisers to assist the NHS negotiating teams.

The talks will lead to an 'invitation to negotiate' bid containing details about costs, staffing and activity levels. These are due by the end of May. By July, the negotiating teams hope to have selected a 'preferred bidder' for each DTC with which to negotiate a contract by September.

A spokesman for Greater Manchester SHA confirmed that talks were due to get underway with two South African and one US company bidding to set up and run a surgical DTC at Trafford General Hospital.

In Trent, talks were due to start with three companies wishing to provide an orthopaedic DTC and four bidding for an ophthalmic DTC as HSJ went to press.

Anne Heathcote, project director for Trent access and choice programme based at Nottingham City PCT, said: 'This initiative is important as it will increase capacity and provide choice for patients. But there is a lot riding on it and we will be looking for a lot of detail, including how much this is all going to cost us