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Three integrated care boards have had to pay £1.7m to a technology firm, after commissioners manipulated a procurement, new figures reveal.

The ICBs – Gloucestershire; Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire; and Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire – were ordered to pay the amount in damages and legal fees to Consultant Connect after a judge ruled their staff had improperly awarded a contract to another tech firm following “considerable organisational bias”.

The flawed procurement for tech to support the ‘advice and guidance’ service was carried out by the ICBs’ predecessor clinical commissioning groups.

Examples of the manipulation included staff lobbying on behalf of their favoured company (Cinapsis) and only inviting that firm to enter a “mini-competition” to secure the contract.

The figures setting out the cost to the ICBs have only been published in their 2022-23 annual accounts. The largest cost was borne by BANES ICB, which paid £881,000. In his High Court judgment, Mr Justice Kerr said the precessor CCG staff had engaged in a “covert scoring and selection exercise” which led to Cinapsis gaining an unfair advantage.

Gloucestershire ICB had to pay £640,000. Mr Kerr ruled that the predecessor CCG had improperly communicated with — and favoured — Cinapsis during the process.

BNSSG paid £215,000. Mr Kerr concluded the conduct of the CCGs for that area had been “less serious”, but added that staff should have known the process had been unlawful.

The ICBs were also ordered to pay civil penalties of £22,000, in what is believed to be the first such fine issued in the UK.

In its 2022-23 annual report, Gloucestershire ICB said it had undertaken a “detailed lessons learnt” review of the procurement process and implemented “further controls” relating to conflict of interest management.

The review was scrutinised by the ICB’s audit committee which “includes both internal and external auditors”, it said. But the ICB refused to answer HSJ’s questions about actions taken after the case, including about whether the review would be published.

BANES ICB also refused to answer when HSJ asked if it had conducted any lessons learned exercises and if any action had been taken against staff who were involved.

BNSSG had not responded to HSJ’s questions at the time of publication.

Cinapsis, which went on to win the re-procured contract following the original contract length being shortened, has maintained throughout that it acted in “good faith” during the process.

The company recently successfully challenged an advice and guidance procurement in East of England in which NHS commissioners wanted to award a contract to Consultant Connect.

It comes as the rules governing NHS procurement and competition are being changed following the 2022 Health and Care Act.

Source: HSJ

Date: 9 October

Posted in News on Oct 09, 2023

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