Independent providers have slammed primary care trusts' attempts to procure new services under a flagship Department of Health scheme. They say the equitable access to primary medical care scheme is 'appallingly poorly managed'.
As deadlines for responses to the first pre-qualification questionnaires approach, they have warned that PCTs are unclear about their aims and are doing the "bare minimum".
PCTs are working to meet a government-imposed target to introduce new GP practices in the 25 per cent of PCTs with poorest provision, and GP-led health centres in all PCTs.
HSJ has learned that Buckinghamshire PCT, one of the first to invite interest, has decided not to proceed with its equitable access scheme after bidders had already submitted their pre-qualification questionnaires.
One director of a private provider said PCTs were providing incomplete briefs and in one case had been unsure that the model for which bids were being invited was even viable.
"I've gone to a large number of provider events and they're appallingly poorly managed," he said. "They are lacking in information and in any sense of commercial savvy. I'm very disappointed at the lack of joined-up thinking between the centre and PCTs. It seemed very exciting and clear to us when we listened to [NHS director general of commissioning and system management] Mark Britnell speak, but when you go to PCT events, there's no evidence of joined-up thinking.
"Where we've asked for details of diagnostics provision or extra services, they say: 'We don't know'." He said that at one procurement event, a health service manager had admitted they had no idea whether the scheme for which bids were being invited would be viable.
After his firm put in a pre-qualification questionnaire for the Buckinghamshire scheme, they received a letter saying the scheme had been pulled before the PCT had evaluated the questionnaires, he added.
A Buckinghamshire PCT spokeswoman told HSJ the decision to withdraw the scheme had been made because "[the] tender specification was a complex issue of four inter-related projects and the board felt that the risks of the interaction between the four components had not been adequately assessed".
Another senior figure at a separate independent firm said: "You get an expectation of the procurements being more difficult than they need to be."
A DH spokesperson said: "Procurement is progressing according to the agreed timelines. The procurement website has had over 75,000 dowloads of documents; the bidder events have been well attended. We have not had any specific issues raised and if we do, we will be following these up to ensure the PCTs are leading a good procurement."