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An integrated care board has dropped its procurement of a digital system after a losing bidder launched a legal challenge accusing the ICB of breaking purchasing rules.

Hertfordshire and West Essex ICB tendered for software to power advice and guidance services which allow GPs to contact consultants before making referrals.

The ICB wanted to award the contract to Consultant Connect, but has now aborted the process after a legal challenge by rival Monmedical, which trades as Cinapsis.

Cinapsis claimed the procurement process was “attended by significant illegality” and designed to favour Consultant Connect. It said the ICB had used an IT supplies procurement framework incorrectly by employing it to try to procure clinical consultancy services as well as software. The losing bidder also said the ICB had not correctly identified and declared a conflict of interest.

Cinapsis further claimed the award of a pilot contract to Consultant Connect for the same service in 2021 was unlawful. The ICB acknowledged this and said it had mistakenly thought the value of the contract was below a threshold at which certain procurement regulations apply.

The pilot contract was for an initial duration of one year, but it stipulated that if neither side gave notice to end the deal then it would continue “indefinitely until either party terminates it”. To date, neither side has terminated the contract.

HWE ICB announced in April 2023 that it had awarded a three-year contract worth over £1.2m to Consultant Connect. However, it then told Cinapsis in May that the contract “not been finalised”, and that the procurement process had been ‘paused’”.

Announcing the decision to halt the procurement, the ICB said it had ”considered the issues raised in the challenge to the procurement and has notified all parties involved that it will not be issuing a contract award. It added “we would therefore anticipate that this litigation will be brought to an end.”

In court papers seen by HSJ, it denied it acted unlawfully or designed its procurement to favour a preferred bidder. It also denied failing to identify or manage a conflict of interest involving its procurement adviser, Attain. The ICB claimed that, after the success of the pilot, it “sought to obtain similar services through [G-Cloud], upon which both the Claimant and [Consultant Connect] were suppliers”.

It also claimed the terms of the call-off contract did not go beyond what the G-Cloud framework allowed. It did not seek to “procure clinical consultancy services,” and was only trying to purchase “a cloud-based platform to facilitate communications between GPs and consultants”.

Cinapsis said: “We have been seeking clarity over how these contracts were awarded for many months, to help us understand the process that was followed. This [legal] action is a final resort to try to obtain clear answers.”

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Source: HSJ

Date: 25 September

Posted in News on Sep 24, 2023

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