Exclusive: ‘Bias’ claim over £190m Yorkshire NHS contract

Chris Butler, chief executive  of Leeds Partnerships NHS Foundation Trust

Chris Butler, chief executive of Leeds Partnerships NHS Foundation Trust

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A YORKSHIRE health trust has called for an official inquiry into how a £190m contract was awarded amid claims of potential bias in the tendering process.

Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust (LYPFT), which runs mental health services, has written to health regulator Monitor detailing a series of concerns over how it narrowly lost a five-year contract to run services in the Vale of York - and called for the transfer of services to another trust, due on 1 October, to be suspended.

The Trust’s letter, seen by the Yorkshire Post, says Monitor should investigate the role of Louise Barker, a key member of Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), whose partner works for Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV). Dr Barker, the CCG’s lead on mental health, was directly involved in the decision to award the contract to TEWV in May.

The letter, from the Trust’s chief executive Chris Butler, says the CCG breached NHS tendering rules and that the “breaches have undermined the integrity and legality of the Procurement.”

It highlights concerns that Dr Barker was a member of the assessment panel judging the rival bids and that her scores for TEWV were significantly higher than her fellow panel members. It points out that Dr Barker’s role was potentially crucial when TEWV’s bid was given a rating just 0.5 per cent above Leeds and York Partnership.

The letter says: “The Trust makes no allegations regarding Dr Barker’s integrity... Dr Barker’s position of conflict could have led to an unintentional preference for TEWV’s bid, which impacted on the outcome.”

The Trust has also claimed the CCG changed the criteria on costs after initially providing an assurance the new contract would have a fixed price, whichever bidder won. The letter says the CCG subsequently told the Trust, which currently provides services in the York area, that TEWV won solely because it offered to run services for a cheaper price. At the same time, the CCG acknowledged cost was likely to vary during the contract.

The letter says the trust was left with the “message it had lost on price but that price is likely to change.”

It further claims that the assessment panel which judged the bids lacked relevant professional expertise in mental health services and did not include any service users among the panel members. The make-up of the panel potentially gave Dr Barker “disproportionate influence on the scoring of the bids”, the letter says.

The trust has raised its concerns with local MPs. Selby and Ainsty MP Nigel Adams said: “I’ve met with the chairman of LYPFT to discuss and listen to their concerns and it’s absolutely right that Monitor take a close look at the award of this contract. I will be very interested to hear their findings.”

York Outer MP Julian Sturdy said he would be writing to Monitor to ask questions about how the tendering process was handled.

A spokesman for Monitor said the regulator could not comment while the complaint was under review.

The CCG said it was unaware of the complaint letter to Monitor but a spokeswoman added that the CCG “is able to make it clear that it does not accept that it has, in any way, acted otherwise than in accordance with its obligations” under public contract or NHS regulations.

She said: “The CCG’s position is that it has adopted an extremely robust and rigorous process, and the CCG will confidently uphold that process as required.

“In the meantime, the CCG’s main objective is to ensure that providers deliver patient care so they remain safe during the mobilisation period of the contract.”

She added that Dr Barker would not be commenting.

LYPFT has faced criticism over its services in the York area after an inspection found they were of a lower standard than those it provides in Leeds. Much of the concern focussed around the rundown condition of the 18th century Bootham Park Hospital in York, an issue which has significant cost implications for whichever trust runs services.

Chris Butler, LYPFT chief executive, said: “On Monday 11 May we learned that we were not selected as the preferred provider by the Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to provide local mental health and learning disability services in the Vale of York from 1 October 2015. We were extremely disappointed and have sought to fully understand the reasons for this.

“The tender process was very competitive and we are really proud of the hard work by all staff involved working with partner agencies on what was an excellent bid. We were judged to be best on quality but lost out on price.

“The Board and I have serious concerns over the procurement process that took place. Also we do not believe that another major upheaval of local services in York and North Yorkshire is in the best interests of patients and their families. In light of this we referred our concerns to the NHS regulator Monitor and we are currently awaiting a response from them on what level of action they will take.”

TEWV declined to comment.

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