The cooperation and competition panel has received a formal complaint about a primary care trust’s interpretation of the government’s “preferred provider” policy.

The NHS Confederation’s NHS partners network and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations have both separately asked the panel to investigate NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney’s decision to ban non NHS providers from tendering for its community services.

The PCT had invited bidders to take over the services currently carried out by its provider arm in an open tender in October.

The following month it said only bids from NHS services would be accepted, in light of the government’s statement about the NHS being the “preferred provider”.

In a letter to the panel, Acevo chief executive Stephen Bubb said: “It is clear to me that there is much scope for agents across the NHS to misinterpret the…statement.”

He asked the panel to “clarify that this statement should not be understood by commissioners to mean that they should act in an anti-competitive way that contravenes the [Department of Health’s principles and rules for cooperation and competition] or that favours the public sector over any other.”

The matter had “system-wide implications,” he said.

He said the decision had gone against the principle that “commissioners should commission services from the providers who are best placed to deliver the needs of their patients and populations.”

It was also contrary to the principle that “commissioners and providers should foster patient choice,” he said.

In a separate letter to the PCT’s chief executive, Sushil Jathanna, Mr Bubb said he appreciated that the policy had put Dr Jathanna in a “difficult position”.

The letter from NHS partners sent to the panel yesterday sets out broadly similar concerns to those expressed by Acevo, HSJ understands.

Director David Worskett said: “This is an important NHS wide issue and Alan Johnson, when he was health secretary, had the foresight to set up the panel to advise on such matters.

“The NHS partners network is firmly convinced that the approach being adopted by Great Yarmouth and Waveney, following DH guidance, is not one which will ensure that patients and taxpayers get the best quality and the best value. Nor will it stimulate the innovation and productivity which the NHS now needs more than ever before”.

Dr Jathanna has been PCT chief executive since 1 November, when he replaced interim chief executive Paul Zollinger-Read, who was brought in following the departure of Mike Stonard in May.

Mr Stonard left after his organisation was named as one of the two worst performing PCTs in last year’s world class commissioning ratings.

Dr Jathanna said he was “disappointed” the matter had been referred to the panel and hoped the challenge would soon be “disposed of” to end uncertainty for staff.

He said: “Our priority has always been to make sure that the services we commission provide the best possible care for our patients, whilst at the same time complying with national policy and guidance.”

The successful lead NHS contractor would be encouraged to work closely with the voluntary and independent sectors within a consortium, probably through a subcontracting arrangement, in order to “encourage competition to help drive up quality and innovation within the NHS and ensure we get value for money.”

It is hoped the new provider will be in place by “the middle” of 2010.

A cooperation and competition panel spokesman said the panel was following due process and considering the content of the letter.