• Procurement delays have been reported by trusts involved in major reconfiguration of genetic testing services
  • Unclear to what extent the contracting delays will impact the services
  • Source says delays caused by some specialist providers being “resistant to change”

A flagship project to commission new contracts for seven genetic testing hubs appears to have been delayed.

According to trusts involved in the process, NHS England had intended to award contracts in June 2018, but the procurement process was still ongoing late this month.

Earlier this year, the national body said the hubs were due to be tested from April 2018, with an “operational system” in place by October.

When contacted by HSJ this week, a spokesman for NHS England said the hubs “will begin to rollout” in October, and that this was in line with what was planned. However, they would not answer questions about the contracts or procurement process.

It is unclear to what extent the contracting delays would affect the services provided by the hubs.

The hubs are designed to rationalise the current network of genetic testing laboratories, which are spread across a wider range of providers.

The intention is to improve equality of access to routine DNA tests and the quality and cost of screening. The hubs would provide routine diagnosis of rare genetic conditions, DNA sequencing of cancer tumours and, in the future, enable the use of personalised medicine tailored to an individual’s genetic makeup.

A report to the board of Manchester University Foundation Trust, which is bidding to become one of the regional hubs, said in July that it had submitted a bid in April. But it said the “contract award has been delayed” because NHS England has “continued to review the specialist testing envelope longer than it anticipated”.

Another bidder, Guy’s and St Thomas’s FT, said this month that the procurement process had not yet concluded.

One source close to the process said there had been delays because trusts were unwilling to give up their own genetic laboratory testing, as it would negatively impact on their finances.

They said some specialised providers were “resistant to change”, and also raised concerns that the core intention may be “diluted” as some of the regions may not be concentrated into a single hub because of local politics.

They said the UK has been leading on genetic research and the delay will mean the “rest of the world will wonder what we are doing”.

Other hub submissions include one from North Bristol trust in partnership with the Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust, who were invited by NHS England to tender for the south west genomic laboratory.

It is also thought University Hospitals Birmingham FT and Cambridge University Hospitals FT are in the running to be awarded bids, as well as a consortium run by Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals FT, Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals FT.

The government science and technology committee published a report on the new genomic networks in April 2018 which raised several concerns about the project. It found the required digital infrastructure to support data sharing and storage still required a “huge amount of work” and not all the budget associated with developing this system had been identified.

It also raised concerns about the volume and skills of available NHS staff to work within the networks.