A row has broken out between health officials after a bid to provide out-of-hours GP services in the region was axed at the eleventh hour.
Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the North of Tyne area abandoned an almost finished procurement process after High Court legal proceedings were started by one of the bidders.
Northern Doctors Urgent Care, which has provided out-of-hours GP care across the area for almost a decade, filed a legal challenge when it was named as the recommended service provider for only one of the CCGs, North Tyneside.
The North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust was chosen as the preferred bidder for Northumberland, and in Newcastle a joint bid between Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Gateshead Based Care Limited was recommended.
It is understood that contract documents had been drawn up for the new providers before the process was suddenly scrapped. Now the whole scheme is being re-run by the four CCGs involved; Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle West and Newcastle North and East.
The bodies involved claimed the move represented an “opportunity missed” and called for the reasons behind the decision to be made public.
Former medical director of Gateshead Community Based Care, Dr Ken Megson said: “It is very disappointing that the Newcastle CCGs have missed an opportunity to develop an integrated urgent care system.
“The innovative scheme, involving GPs working in close partnership with hospital colleagues in A&E, walk-in centres and out-of-hours home visiting represented a significant improvement on existing services. It should have been up and running from last April and the contract documentation had actually been provided to the new providers.
“The procurement process was cancelled at a very late stage and without any obvious explanation, other than the threat by the private company providing the current service, Northern Doctors Urgent Care, to raise a legal challenge against the process.
“They have now effectively secured themselves an extended contract until the whole expensive and lengthy process is re-run. In a transparent NHS, the public is entitled to know the basis for that threatened legal action and the costs involved.
“In an NHS environment of increasing private company involvement, CCGs must resist challenges to their processes and not waste money earmarked for patient care employing lawyers. The patients of Newcastle deserve nothing less.”
Northern Doctors Urgent Care is believed to be currently continuing to provide out-of-hours care for the areas affected. The legal challenge is understood to have been resolved outside of court.
NHS chiefs say the CCGs now have the chance to co-commission primary care in hours and out-of-hours GP services, which led to the decision to halt the procurement process.
A spokesperson for NHS Newcastle and Gateshead Alliance, responsible for the planning and choosing of the majority of local NHS services said: “The NHS world has changed significantly since this procurement process commenced on a specification designed by the former Primary Care Trust.
“A major development is that from April next year, the CCG will be able to co-commission primary care with NHS England.
“The opportunity to commission seamless in hours and out-of-hours GP services is one that we simply can’t afford to miss. It’s for these reasons that we’ve decided to halt the procurement as we believe it’s in the best interests of the patients of Newcastle.”
However, a Newcastle city councillor said the reasons for the Northern Doctors Urgent Care legal challenge, and any out of court settlement, should be made public.
David Denholm, councillor for the Walkergate ward, said: “I have written to the chair of the City Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee raising my concerns over this whole process and asking that they keep an eye on the ongoing developments.
“To my eye it is in the public interest that the original reason for this legal challenge be revealed as well as the size of any out of court settlement be made public.
“It is vitally important for my constituents’ care and for confidence in the local system, that these healthcare decisions are taken both openly and with the best of clinically-based decision making.
“That an awarded contract for GP out of hours care has been scrapped, with no real public explanation as to why and on the cusp of winter, I find deeply troubling.”
Northern Doctors Urgent Care said the company had no further comments on the situation.