North West acute trust chiefs are questioning the need for a new clinical assessment and treatment service run by the private sector.

The£104m a year contract to provide the CATS was awarded to Partnership Health Group, a joint venture between Care UK and Alliance Medical. But region acute chiefs say it is not needed to meet the 18-week target, as first intended, or to provide patient choice.

The plan has been subject to controversy since 2006 when the Department of Health awarded the original contract to Partnership Health Group and Netcare. Netcare has pulled out of the deal. It had been criticised by local stakeholders over concerns that awarding the South African company the contract would be anti-competitive. Netcare owns and runs the Greater Manchester surgical centre, prompting fears it could assess and then refer patients to its own centre.

Partnership Health Group will now run the entire scheme across the North West.

Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS trust chief executive Andrew Foster told HSJ the North West no longer needed the scheme.

'Most primary care trusts in the North West have no need for this anymore, definitely not to meet 18 weeks. It seems the only reason they are promoting it is to introduce choice and destabilise the health economy and local acute trusts.'

Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale PCT chief executive Trevor Purt defended the scheme. He said it was necessary to increase local choice.

'Whilst 18 weeks had been the driver for the scheme initially, we also want to have alternative ways of providing GP services and patient choice and access. In August we revised and reduced the estimated patients who will use the CATS.'

Mr Purt said PCTs were 'comfortable' with revised usage figures 55 per cent less than first planned.

NHS North West chief executive Mike Farrer told HSJ he was 'excited' by the scheme, which would redesign the outpatient experience.

Mr Farrer also confirmed PCTs commissioning from the scheme would only pay for what they used and that the risk of underuse would be held with the DoH and Partnership Health Group.

HSJ understands PCT chief executives will meet tomorrow to agree formally to sign off the contract.