Commissioners have admitted a mistake was made in the awarding of a £60m community services contract after independent sector providers were excluded from the process.

Commissioners have admitted a mistake was made in the advertisement of a £60m community services contract after independent sector providers were excluded from the process.

NHS Milton Keynes and Northamptonshire and NHS Midlands and East received a warning letter from the NHS Partners Network, which represents independent providers of NHS care, over a bid to tender a community services contract in September.

In July the PCT cluster, with the support of its strategic health authority cluster, published an advert on the Supply2Health website, seeking expressions of interest for the provision of many community, mental health and children’s services.

It advertised a three-year contract, thought to be worth around £60m, as open to NHS and independent sector providers. HSJ understands at least eight independent sector providers responded to the advert.

However, in September the commissioners withdrew the advert and replaced it with a second advert restricting the process to NHS organisations.

The partners network believed this was unlawful and sent a “letter before action” to commissioners, telling them its position.

The network believed that although under the terms of the transforming community services programme commissioners can refuse to open up services to private sector providers, they cannot do so after indicating there would be an open procurement process.

Network director David Worskett said: “We took legal advice. Our view was that restricting it to the NHS was unlawful, they were still in the procurement pathway but had restricted it only to the NHS.”

The PCT and SHA clusters have admitted they made an error. They have put a notice on the site saying they are seeking a partner under the transforming community services approach.

It means services will be awarded to an NHS organisation, but there is a commitment they will be put out to open tender after a “transitional period” of three years.

Mr Worskett said he was now satisfied the process was lawful.

A spokesman for the PCT cluster described the initial advertisement as “an error”.