COMMERCIAL: A formal legal challenge has been made to commissioners who awarded a private sector company a £126m community care contract.

Kent Community Health Foundation Trust started proceedings at the High Court on Friday, HSJ can reveal.

Royal Courts of Justice

Royal Courts of Justice

Kent Community Health has started proceedings at the High Court

The challenge is to Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley Clinical Commissioning Group and Swale CCG, who awarded the seven year contract to Virgin Care.

Last week’s challenge triggers an automatic suspension of the awarding of the contract until the case is settled or discontinued.

Kent Community Health made its bid in alliance with Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust, and Virgin’s offer also beat one from Dartford and Gravesham Trust.

Lesley Strong, acting chief executive of Kent Community Health Foundation Trust, said: “We have been working with the CCGs and Virgin Care during the past month on the transfer of services from 1 April. We have been concerned that Virgin Care was awarded the contract on price over quality and as further information has become available, our concerns have increased.

“We need to seek reassurance that Virgin Care is able to deliver on its bid, in the timescales they indicated, for the safety of patients and staff. We appreciate the CCGs have the right to test the market but this decision needs to be made in full position of all the facts.

“We have asked the CCGs to provide us with the detail of Virgin’s bid to provide assurance and the CCGs are considering this request. After careful consideration, we’ve asked for the courts to intervene, which means the contracts cannot be signed while this happens.”

A spokeswoman for the CCGs said: “We will update bidders as to any developments in due course. In the meantime the CCGs have nothing further to add.”

HSJ reported earlier this month that Kent Community Health had written to the CCGs to query their methodology.

Ms Strong told HSJ then that her organisation was “asking for clarification on a number of issues including how they evaluated Virgin’s mobilisation plan, which is a critical element of the tender scoring”.

A report to the trust’s board of governors from finance director Gordon Flack said it had scored higher than Virgin in the quality assessment.

It added that the CCG assessment “took no account” of the loss of economies of scale, redundancy costs of staff that do not transfer to Virgin and the cost of retraining staff in new IT systems.

Mr Flack said: “Governors will be well aware the trust has spent considerable effort and incurred significant cost in implementing a new mobile IT system to provide an electronic patient record. This will not transfer to the new bidder and staff will be subject to a new system from the new provider but this is unlikely to be available by 1 April [when the contract starts].”

He indicated that Virgin would also have to appoint staff for the continence service, speech and language therapy, and orthotics services because the people who delivered them at the trust performed most of their work in other areas and so would not transfer to the private operator.

Mr Flack said the trust would not consent to do the work as a subcontractor for Virgin while these issues were still being resolved.