NHS helpline delayed after main bidder pulls out
Plans for a new medical helpline in Devon have gone back to the drawing board after the preferred bidder withdrew from the race.
The new NHS 111 phone service is designed to be the first port of call for non-emergency health queries and is due to roll out nationally next year.
Contracts for the service are awarded locally and while in Cornwall the deal is done and dusted, in Devon it has been sent back to square one.
The county's out-of-hours GP service, Devon Doctors Ltd, which initially won the contract, yesterday said they could not progress.
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A statement issued on behalf of NHS Devon, Plymouth and Torbay confirmed there would be a delay. A spokesman was unable to specify how long, but confirmed alternatives were being discussed.
"The NHS 111 contract for Devon was provisionally awarded to Devon Doctors Ltd as the preferred bidder following a competitive tendering process," he said.
"There is a period of time following a provisional contract award when both parties move to conclude the contract. Devon Doctors Ltd concluded that they were unable to meet the requirements of the NHS 111 contract for Devon and have subsequently withdrawn their bid.
"As a result, the award of the NHS 111 contract for Devon has been delayed and alternative options are being considered."
The organisation, which will continue to run Devon's out-of-hours GP service, is believed to have withdrawn after it became apparent the contract – thought to be worth in excess of £5 million – would not be worth pursuing.
It is thought that the Devon Doctors Ltd bid involved a number of other healthcare organisations who overall had submitted a number of other bids for the 111 service the South West.
However, when some of these other bids were unsuccessful, the economies of scale made it commercially non-viable to proceed in Devon.
Chris Wright, chief executive of Devon Doctors, confirmed that a "commercial consideration" was at the root of the decision.
He said that after being selected as preferred provider for the 111 service, the organisation opened discussions with healthcare commissioners with a view to concluding the contract.
"Unfortunately, commercial considerations meant that Devon Doctors was not in a position to proceed and it has, therefore, withdrawn its bid to operate the service," he said.
"At the same time, Devon Doctors remains fully committed to the principles of NHS 111 and, in its role as provider of the county's out-of-hours service, looks forward to working with the organisation which is awarded the contract to ensure the people of Devon benefit from a first-class healthcare service."
The NHS 111 number is aimed at helping people access their local services. It will be staffed by nurses and trained advisers who will guide callers to the best service for their condition.
Last month, NHS Cornwall, the primary care trust, announced that NHS Direct had been awarded the contract for the county.