• Procurement ongoing for new provider of pathology services for up to eight trusts
  • Three bidders vying for contract
  • One of the bidders excluded from unrelated procurement after claims it provided misleading information

Three bidders have been shortlisted for one of the biggest NHS pathology contracts, HSJ can reveal.

Last September, the South East London pathology programme board launched a procurement for a new provider for up to eight NHS trusts.

The 10-year contract is worth up to £2.2bn. It was tendered amid a push from NHS Improvement for all trusts to form networks in a bid to submit £200m of savings by 2021.

HSJ understands the three shortlisted bidders are:

  • Health Services Laboratories (a joint venture between the Royal Free London Foundation Trust, University College London Hospitals FT, and The Doctors Laboratory);
  • Synlab Group, through one of its UK subsidiaries (an international medical diagnostics provider with laboratory services for human and veterinary medicine); and
  • Incumbent provider Viapath (a joint venture between Guy’s and St Thomas’ FT, King’s College Hospital FT, and Serco).

The winning bidder will start providing its service from September 2020, when Viapath’s contract expires.

According to the South East London Sustainability and Transformation Partnership, “arrangements have been put in place in the programme structure” to ensure there is no conflict of interest with Viapath during the tender evaluation and approval process.

Members of the Viapath board are excluded from membership of the South East London pathology programme board.

The STP said it could not confirm the shortlisted bidders while the tender process was ongoing.  

Meanwhile, it has emerged that one of the bidders was excluded from a previous procurement after claims it submitted false information in its bid.

In 2012, the Royal Free London FT and UCLH launched a procurement to find a private sector partner with which to form its pathology venture.

The procurement led to two bidders being shortlisted: The Doctors Laboratory and Synlab.

However, it subsequently emerged Synlab’s claim it was in the process of developing a laboratory close to the trusts’ sites which would meet the requirements of the tender was not correct. Synlab was, therefore, excluded from the procurement, according to information published by UCLH.

HSJ has asked Synlab about the 2012 procurement, but the organisation has not yet responded. 

Synlab currently holds three pathology ventures with the NHS, with Taunton and Somerset FT and Yeovil FT, The Christie FT, and Southend University Hospital FT and Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals FT.

Sarah Cook, lead health officer for Unite in London – which represents staff working for all three bidders and the affected NHS providers – told HSJ the union would have concerns if Viapath did not win the contract because of the impact on its existing staff.

But the union also hoped the other bidders missing out on the contract would not negatively impact those organisations’ staff. 

“If Viapath does not win the contract, their staff would be faced with having to go through TUPE, but there could be issues for all the staff delivering pathology services in all the providers if whoever wins the contract decides to centralise these services,” she said. 

“For those trusts included in the bid where the staff currently work for the NHS, those staff face losing their NHS employment and working in the private sector, which is not what they would want.

“Our principle position is that these services should be provided by the public sector and should ideally be brought back in-house.”

Health Services Laboratories and Viapath have been approached for comment. 

The full list of trusts included in the tender is: 

  • Guy’s and St Thomas’ FT; 
  • King’s College Hospital FT;
  • East Sussex Healthcare Trust;
  • Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust;
  • Oxleas FT;
  • South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust;
  • South London and Maudsley FT; and
  • Royal Brompton and Harefield FT.