Circle ‘disappointed’ as judge rules on Nottingham Treatment Centre award

Circle Health has said it is ‘disappointed’ by Rushcliffe CCG’s decision to push ahead with handing over the contract to run the Nottingham Treatment Centre to a local trust after a High Court Judge lifted suspension of the contract award.

Transfer of the £320m contract to Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) was put on hold earlier this year when Circle announced it was challenging the decision in the Technology and Construction Court. However, Deputy High Court judge Sir Antony Edwards-Stuart, who is presiding over the case, has ruled that the CCG can award the contract while Circle pursues its case for damages.

A spokesperson for Circle said a ‘rushed handover’ was not in the best interests of patients and that the decision would not affect its challenge to the CCG’s procurement process, which will be heard later this year.

Circle, which has operated the contract since its inception 11 years ago, has challenged whether NUH’s bid to run the service is credible, given that it is forecasting a deficit of £40.3m this year. It claims NUH’s commitment to achieve savings of 16.1% over the five-year contract term is unsustainable without cross-subsidy from NHS loans or funding.

Circle Health challenged the CCG’s recommissioning of the service last year, following what it described as ‘unsustainable cuts to services’. The contract was worth around £67m in 2017/18, but the re-tender valued it at just £50m a year and proposed a number of cuts, including a reduction in the number of patients treated for some services and the removal of all inpatient beds.

The CCG pulled the tender in May 2018, but the most recent procurement still values the contract at less than 2017/18 levels at roughly £64m a year.

‘We are confident that the Court will find that the commissioners have run a flawed and unfair procurement,’ said the spokesperson. ‘Circle has provided services at the treatment centre for the past 11 years and we believe that we have presented the most credible, deliverable bid and that it is irrational for the commissioners to award a contract of this size and importance to a trust that is unable to meet current financial and operational demands.’

The CCG plans to transition the service to the new provider in July. Circle said the timeframe could impact patient care, particularly given that the CCG previously recognised that an orderly transfer would require a minimum of seven months.

‘Given the tens of thousands of patients cared for at the treatment centre and the complexity of the systems operated there, conducting a handover in such a short period of time threatens to undermine the quality and safety of patient care. Circle will do whatever we can to support patients and staff during this challenging handover process, but believe that the commissioners’ actions will cause entirely avoidable disruption for patients and staff,’ said the company.