COMMERCIAL: A community services provider has accused the country’s largest clinical commissioning group of a conflict of interest in its decision to award a £100m contract without a tender.

Northern Devon Healthcare Trust alleges that the process followed by Northern, Eastern and Western Devon CCG to award the three year community services contract was “automatically skewed” in favour of a neighbouring provider.

Northern Devon district hospital

Northern Devon Healthcare Trust alleges that the awarding of a £100m contract was ‘automatically skewed’ towards another provider

The trust says in a document submitted to Monitor that senior figures involved in drawing up plans regarding the service’s future configuration were also involved in identifying the preferred provider. The CCG categorically denies the claim.

Monitor is currently investigating the contracting process.

Last November the CCG named Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust as its preferred provider of the contract, for which Northern Devon Healthcare is the incumbent.

The services cover the eastern locality of the group’s area.

The Northern Devon Healthcare document, which lays out the full extent of the provider’s grievances, also alleges that:

  • the CCG had always intended to transfer the contract to another provider;
  • the CCG and Royal Devon and Exeter were not transparent in their correspondence during the decision process; and
  • commissioners engaged in “discriminatory” and “anti-competitive” behaviour in coming to their decision.

The document says: “[Northern Devon Healthcare] remains concerned that individuals who were involved in the development of the original… strategic framework, were also involved in the process that resulted in the identification of the preferred provider. This would have represented a conflict of interest.”

“The decision [to change providers] was clearly preordained to the extent that many CCG senior managers and commissioning GPs openly talked about ‘when’ services would transfer, irrespective of any process going on at the time.”

The trust also alleges that NEW Devon CCG was not clear with providers about the process to be followed in choosing the service’s next provider.

It argues: “The overarching process to be followed has never been made clear to providers, or at least to [us]. Changes and delays have occurred with no explanation.”

“It is undeniable that the public desire greater integration of services, as we all do - but the public were not asked [which provider] should provide the community services.”

Royal Devon and Exeter has suggested that Northern Devon Healthcare’s objections to the contracting decision appeared to be based on the idea that a competitive tender process should take precedence over the wishes of local patients.

In its own submission to Monitor, Royal Devon and Exeter wrote: “[Northern Devon Healthcare’s] premise appears to be that there is no place for an outcome determined through consulting the community and patients.

“The complainant appears to contend that the views of the public should be discarded and a process that is anything other than fully competitively tendered is not acceptable.”

Royal Devon and Exeter also denies the accusation that it was not transparent in its dealings with the CCG.

The CCG, in its submission to Monitor, says it had concerns “that a formal competitive process would stop ongoing transformation and would also require a service specification which would inhibit transformation over the life of the contract.”

It adds: “During the procurement process, none of the GPs that work for Northern Devon Healthcare Trust or any other providers forming part of this process were involved in any decision making.”

Responding to allegations that it was not transparent with providers during the process to decide on the best future provider, the CCG said: “[We have] communicated with provider chief executives at key milestones throughout the entire process both in letters and also other meetings and phone calls, including Northern Devon Healthcare Trust.”