• Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCGs set aside fertility contract
  • Private provider said contract was lost after a legal challenge from competing bidder
  • CCGs back away from unpopular proposal to restrict access to IVF treatment

Three clinical commissioning groups pulled out of a £10.5m fertility contract just weeks before the service was meant to start, after a legal challenge to the decision.

Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire CCGs, which are in the process of merging, awarded a contract for assisted conception services to private provider, Bath Fertility, in October.

However, Bath Fertility medical director David Walker told HSJ the decision had been reversed because of legal challenge from a competing bidder.

He said: “We won the tender but there was a legal challenge from another application. Clearly we were disappointed.”

The service was scheduled to switch from North Bristol Trust, which had planned to no longer provider the service, to Bath Fertility on 1 December.

However, a paper going to the CCGs joint commissioning board on Tuesday revealed that during an in private session in November the board decided to put aside its decision to award the contract to “promote greater patient choices”.

In response to questions from HSJ, a CCG spokesman confirmed a legal challenge was received from another bidder after the contract was awarded.

This, along with changes to the scope of sample storage in the contract and feedback about the need for more patient choice, led to decision to abandon the contract, the spokesman said.

“There were now alternative procurement options that better supported patient choice and were preferable when risks and benefits were assessed against continuing,” he added.

The original tender for the contract said it would be worth an estimated £10.5m, around £1.5m a year, running for five years from 1 December with the option to extend for up to two years.

With the Bath Fertility contract shelved, five providers will provide IVF services on a non-contracted basis for the CCGs in the interim, the papers said. Bath Fertility is one of these providers.

On Tuesday, the board will be asked to instead contract the service on a “any qualified provider” basis, with new contracts to be in place by March.

Dr Walker said Bath Fertility still intended to be one of the providers under the new contract, and was expanding its presence in Bristol accordingly.

A North Bristol Trust spokeswoman said the trust had given notice that it would no longer provide IVF fertility services from 30 September 2017. This had been extended for existing patients through to February but it would not be taking on any new patients.

Together the three CCGs are among the most financially distressed in the country, with two, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, in financial special measures.

For 2017-18, the CCGs need to a combined saving of £83.2m to hit a control total of a £8m deficit. However, last month, the CCGs said they were forecasting an end of year combined deficit of £29.9m.

In November, the CCGs also backed down on a separate savings proposal to restrict the eligibility for publicly funded IVF treatment, after public opposition.

The change would have meant women between 35 and 40 would not be eligible for treatment, and clinicians seeking treatment for eligible women between 30 and 35 would need to seek “prior approval” for funding.