• Lord Hunt calls for National Audit Office to investigate £800m contract failure
  • Former Labour health spokesman also set to raise questions about other tenders advised on by the Strategic Projects Team
  • Document shows Cambridgeshire contract was worth £725.5m – at the low end of range originally quoted by commissioners

A senior Labour politician has called on the government’s spending watchdog to investigate the dramatic collapse of an £800m contract in Cambridgeshire, one of the largest contracts ever tendered by the NHS.

Lord Hunt, deputy leader of the opposition in the House of Lords, told HSJ he would write to the National Audit Office this week to ask it probe why the older people’s services contract had been deemed “no longer financially sustainable” just eight months into a five year contract.

He said the letter, penned with a colleague, would ask comptroller and auditor general Amyas Morse to ”investigate the circumstances of the awarding of the contract and its subsequent failure and the waste of public money as a result”.

“I am dumbfounded by why on earth [Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group] got themselves into this mess,” he added. “I do not get the sense that anyone is owning up or taking the rap.”

The move follows an announcement last month that UnitingCare Partnership was handing back the five year outcomes based contract to the CCG, which had been awarded to the fully NHS owned company after a lengthy, costly, and controversial procurement process.

According to a procurement document found by HSJ, the final value of the contract between UnitingCare and the CCG was £725.5m – at the lower end of the £700m-£800m range given to bidders during the tender.

The document was published by the CCG on the sell2wales.gov.uk website in November 2014, a month after UnitingCare was awarded the contract. Neither the CCG or provider disputed the figure in the document when invited to comment by HSJ.

A “memorandum of information” issued to bidders during the procurement in July 2013 said the contract was valued at £140m-£160m a year, giving an overall value over five years of £700m-£800m.

The CCG said its board meeting on 12 January would discuss a stabilisation plan for the contract. A board paper said the CCG would carry out an internal review and that NHS England would carry out an “external review”, as revealed by HSJ last month.

A UnitingCare spokeswoman said: “We welcome an independent investigation to ensure lessons are learned.”

Hunt asks more questions about strategic projects team

Lord Hunt has told HSJ he is set to raise fresh questions about the role played by the NHS’s internal commercial advisers, the strategic projects team, in a number of tenders.

The Labour peer told HSJ that, in addition to calling for scrutiny of the role played by the SPT in the Cambridgeshire older people’s contract he was also going to lay parliamentary questions about other tenders the team advised on.

He said: “I am [going to lay a Parliamentary Question to ask for] the Staffordshire [cancer and end of life services] contract to be delayed.” He said he would also lay a question to call for the “second phase of the PET and CT scanning services contract to be held up”.

The Staffordshire contract is a £1.2bn contract covering the county’s four clinical commissioning groups under the Transforming Cancer and End of Life Care programme.

The SPT was appointed by NHS England to manage the re-procurement of the PET-CT scanning services across England (excluding London).

As revealed by HSJ, minister for NHS productivity Lord Prior said in a written answer last month that NHS England’s investigation into the Cambridgeshire contract would specifically include “the role of the strategic projects team”.

The SPT, which has a mission statement of driving “change from within”, carries out board meetings in private. NHS England has refused to release the team’s board papers. It is hosted by the Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit.

The team has advised on a raft of procurements including the franchising of Hinchingbrooke Health Care Trust and the East of England pathology services reconfiguration.