An independent hospital group has referred two primary care trusts to the Co-operation and Competition Panel over claims of unfair procurement policy, including sub-tariff pricing.

Circle Health, who in December won the bid to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire, has alleged that NHS Wiltshire and NHS Bath and North East Somerset’s Any Willing Provider policy discriminated against them.

The firm said commissioners insisted on: sub-tariff pricing, providers agreeing to “all or none” service deals and sometimes required treatment be delayed by up to 15 weeks from referral.

They also said the PCTs had narrowed the range of elective care procedures offered under AWP from 10 to four.

In their submission Circle said the restrictions amounted to “an overt attempt to manage the NHS healthcare market in a way entirely at odds with government policy” and that it had been told by the South West Strategic Health Authority’s chief executive the SHA “support[ed] the PCTs’ approach”.

A spokeswoman for Circle later clarified to the HSJ that the second of these assertions was incorrect and had been submitted to the CCP in error.

NHS Wiltshire, which commissions on behalf of both PCTs, said they had done nothing wrong.

Its response said the PCTs had “taken the same approach to ‘maximum tariff’ in the AWP framework as they have with all of their NHS providers which are currently on the NHS Standard Contract”.

The PCTs also confirmed that they ran an “all or none [policy for] the four listed services” and said they restricted referrals because of financial pressures and to make sure everyone was treated within 18 weeks, “rather than some [being] treated much earlier and some later“.

Their submission to the CCP stated: “The PCTs have finite resources for commissioning. They are therefore quite entitled in seeking to comply with and balance these obligations to operate tighter restrictions on providers than is currently applicable.”

The CCP must decide whether the PCTs complied with the rules or should face further investigation by 3 March.

In a statement sent to HSJ after the original article appeared in print Circle said: “Circle apologize unreservedly for any comments relating to the South West SHA’s CEO in their original submission, which were submitted in error. In Circle’s experience, the chief executive has always been a strong advocate of choice for patients in the South West.”

‘Circle apologize unreservedly for any comments relating to the South West SHA’s CEO in their original submission, which were submitted in error. In Circle’s experience, the Chief Executive has always been a strong advocate of choice for patients in the South West.’