• Care UK complained to regulator about award of £55m contract in north east London
  • Full judgment due next month

Monitor has found against NHS commissioners in the first stage of a competition case, HSJ can reveal.

Papers released this week indicate that the regulator, which is responsible for settling complaints about procurement and contracting, has “identified potential issues” with a procurement process run by a group of clinical commissioning groups in north east London.

In minutes released ahead of the board meeting of NHS Improvement – the composite body of Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority – Monitor said its cooperation and competition directorate’s initial review of the case had “identified potential issues” with the procurement of elective services, but did not say what these were.

Private healthcare firm Care UK had complained that commissioners had:

  • not followed due process in agreeing to sub-tariff prices;
  • failed to take quality sufficiently into account; and
  • discriminated against it by not running a competitive tender for other services.

The three outer north east London CCGs had initially awarded the five-year, £55m contract to run services at the North East London Treatment Centre to Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust. The centre is on the site of the King George Hospital run by the trust.

But the decision was challenged by private care firm Care UK and referred to Monitor.

Monitor said it had asked the parties to the case to respond this month and that its “final conclusions” will be published in February.

Care UK, whose managing director Jim Easton was the Department of Health national director of improvement and efficiency until 2013, made their complaint in July last year. The new contractor was due to start in November.

The centre provides ear, nose and throat services, gastroenterology, general surgery, ophthalmology, plus trauma and orthopaedics. It was set up as an independent sector treatment centre in 2006.

It was run by Partnership Health Group until 2011 when Care UK won a three-year contract and subsequent one-year extension. This was thought to be worth approximately £51m.

Care UK’s lease on the centre and its contract with the three CCGs ended in October last year.

Care UK also complained about how Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust is funded but Monitor said the issues raised were “outside the scope of the Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition Regulations and national tariff, and we do not propose to address them in our investigation.”