• London trust cancelled procurement for patient transport services
  • Company pulled out of bid over evaluation concerns
  • Allegations of “strong bias” in final moderation meeting 

An NHS trust abandoned its procurement for patient transport services just weeks after a shortlisted bidder pulled out over concerns about the evaluation process, HSJ has learned.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust decided to drop the procurement because it felt unable to lawfully award the contract. In a letter to bidders, seen by HSJ, the trust’s head of procurement Suzanne Scannell said the trust had decided it was “unable to make an assured and unequivocal award under the current procurement process”. 

The letter continued: “In order to ensure that the trust complies with its procurement law obligations, the decision to abandon the current process has been taken.”

The chief executive of the company which pulled out of the procurement told HSJ he received a tip off from a whistleblower that members of the trust’s moderation panel were biased in favour of a rival company.

The procurement ran earlier this year through a framework hosted by London Procurement Partnership and sought to find a provider of non-emergency patient transport services. The contract, estimated to be worth up to £10m, was for five years with two possible one-year extensions. 

By May, the two companies fighting for the contract were Ambulance Transfers Ltd and incumbent provider Hats Group.

But Ambulance Transfers then pulled out of the process. The company’s chief executive Stewart Lawson told HSJ he received a letter from an anonymous whistleblower, which warned the evaluation process was biased.

Mr Lawson said the whistleblower claimed Ambulance Transfers was initially identified as the preferred bidder in the final moderation meeting. He added the whistleblower reported a “strong bias” in favour of Hats Group.

Mr Lawson said: “We pulled out of the procurement because we had no confidence that we were part of a fair process.”

He added he told the trust of his concerns about the process after withdrawing his company’s bid. 

The following month the trust abandoned the procurement.

According to Ms Scannell’s letter, the trust did not intend to start a new procurement for the services but would “undertake a review of potential alternative provision of patient transport services”.

Mr Lawson said: “The whole episode was very frustrating because it costs a lot of time, effort and money to bid for such contracts.”

HSJ asked the trust what had caused it to feel unable to award the contract, and whether it had carried out a review of its process, but a spokesman said: “All matters relating to [the procurement] remain confidential”.