A decision by NHS England to hand more than half of the country’s PET-CT imaging services to one company could be the subject of a formal complaint to market regulator Monitor, HSJ has learned.
News of the potential complaint comes after the government was asked in the Commons to reassure MPs that no “undue influence” was brought to bear over the £350m contract.
The decision in January to award all four regional lots to Alliance Medical sparked fears over the long term impact of the decision on competition.
Concerns have also been expressed by another provider over the near “monopoly” Alliance Medical will have over the provision of PET-CT services in England for the next 10 years, as well as the majority control of production and supply of a radioactive drug known as FDG, which is vital to the PET-CT imaging process.
HSJ understands Siemens Healthcare, which is the only other producer of FDG in England after Alliance took control of two other companies in 2013-14, is taking legal advice over the decision by NHS England. The company was not a bidder in the PET-CT imaging tender but could be heavily affected by NHS England’s decision.
Peter Harrison, Siemens Healthcare’s managing director, said: “We are taking legal and procurement counsel to establish what the options are… and we are entertaining all options. That may include a submission of a formal complaint to Monitor because we are concerned about the long term sustainability of competition in the market.”
Stoke North MP Joan Walley, who successfully lobbied to prevent North Staffordshire patients having to travel for PET-CT scans under the contract, raised her concerns about the contract in questions to William Hague, leader of the House, in the Commons last week.
Calling for a debate about NHS England’s decision, she raised the issue of MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind sitting on the board of Alliance Medical as a non-executive director and receiving £5,000 a month. Sir Malcolm recently announced he will not contest the general election in May after an undercover reporter filmed him allegedly offering his political influence for cash.
Ms Walley asked Mr Hague: “Given that it was not possible for me to raise in health questions or with the chief executive of NHS England in a personal meeting, the continuing concerns about the procurement of a PET scanner across Staffordshire, Cheshire and Lancashire, will the leader of the House give assurances, amid concerns about openness and transparency, that there has been no undue influence from [Sir Malcolm] as a board member of Alliance?
“There are real concerns about the possibility of a monopoly service, which may mean that the contract will need to be referred to the Competition and Markets Authority. Will the Leader of the House find time for a proper, open debate about these continuing concerns?”
A spokesman for Alliance Medical said: “Sir Malcolm Rifkind has not lobbied on behalf of Alliance Medical, and the Department of Health has confirmed he had no contact with ministers or officials.”
Mr Hague said there would be no more health questions before the election but he urged her to submit written questions about her concerns.
NHS England repeated its previous comment that the procurement was “fair and robust” and would lead to improved services for patients.