NHS England has delayed making a decision on a £1bn outsourcing contract until ‘after the general election’ in May, HSJ has learned.

An internal briefing about the primary care support services contract, published last week, says the preferred bidder will be named in March as part of the full business case for the project.

If the final proposal is signed off by the NHS England board, the Department of Health, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, the preferred bidder will be made public.

However, the document added: “We anticipate awarding the contract for [primary care support] services at some time after the general election.”

It leaves open the possibility that the next government could pull the plug on the deal.

It is the first time NHS England has confirmed that the contract will be awarded after the election. Originally bidders had been told the contract would be awarded in March.

No reason has been given for a potential wait of more than a month between signing off the deal and awarding the contract.

HSJ asked NHS England whether the election was a factor in the tender process but no explanation was given.

The document was circulated to primary care support services staff and is signed by Sheree Axon, NHS England’s director of organisational change and programme delivery, and Jill Matthews, managing director for primary care support.

The tender is one of the largest single outsourcing deals ever proposed in the NHS.

The three shortlisted bidders, revealed on hsj.co.uk last week, are:

  • Capgemini, a global consultancy and outsourcing firm, with South East Commissioning Support Unit;
  • Capita with Anglian Community Enterprise (a social enterprise providing community services in north east Essex); and
  • Equiniti, which specialises in finance and administration.

Final bids will be submitted at the end of February and the contract will be awarded in “early spring”, according to NHS England.

The services going out to tender include back office functions that are essential to the functioning of NHS primary care. They include maintaining practice lists; administrating prescription payments, pensions and medical records; and running screening programmes.