An eleventh hour phone call from the Department of Health stopped the cooperation and competition panel’s investigations into a primary care trust’s procurement arrangements.

NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney had decided to ban non-health service providers from bidding to run its community services and claimed that this was backed up by health secretary Andy Burnham’s comments that the service was the “preferred provider” of NHS services.

NHS East of England later instructed all its PCTs – not just Great Yarmouth and Waveney – to halt the tendering process for community services

Mr Burnham’s comments were subsequently set out as policy in a letter to all NHS chief executives from NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson.

The matter was referred to the panel for investigation by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations and the NHS Partners Network. The minutes of a panel meeting on 1 March now confirm it was due to launch a full investigation unless the PCT withdrew its tender.

That investigation was expected to lead to an embarrassing ruling against both the PCT and Mr Burnham.

But the minutes – which have been released under the Freedom of Information Act – show panel chair Lord Carter met DH acting director general of commissioning Gary Belfield on the morning of the meeting, and he had been told that Mr Belfield “proposed to advise [SHA chief executive] Neil McKay at NHS East of England to direct [the PCT] to withdraw the procurement”.

The 1 March meeting was interrupted part way through when Mr Belfield called to confirm that this had been agreed.

The minutes state: “In the course of the meeting Mr Belfield confirmed (by telephone) to Lord Carter that NHS East of England had agreed with Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT that the procurement would be withdrawn.”

The panel therefore agreed to “take no further action provided written confirmation of the withdrawal was received”.

In fact, NHS East of England later instructed all its PCTs – not just Great Yarmouth and Waveney – to halt the tendering process for community services.

The panel has also released a letter from PCT chief executive Sushil Jathanna to the cooperation panel. It says the PCT sought advice from Bob Ricketts, DH director of system management and new enterprise, and from NHS East of England. The letter says the PCT had been left “in no doubt”, that the letter from Sir David “should be understood as an instruction to change our proposed procurement for community services from an open one to one limited to NHS organisations”.

The documents also show that NHS East of England complained to the panel that its own guidance on dealing with complaints at a local level had not been followed, as the matter had been referred directly to the panel rather than the SHA in the first instance.

ACEVO and the NHS Partners Network made the referral after their member organisations were barred from the PCT’s tender process.

Ralph Michell, head of policy at ACEVO, which submitted the Freedom of Information  request, said it hoped that the documents would improve clarity for commissioners involved in tendering for community services.