Lancashire County Council will not rerun its procurement process or re-tender for new bids for its public health nursing services for 0 to 19 year olds following a court judgement. Following a legal challenge to the County Council’s procurement of these services and a hearing at the High Court in April before Mr Justice Stuart-Smith, the judgment of the Court was announced at 10am today (Friday 22 June).
Lancashire County Council ran the procurement between September and November last year, with Virgin Care Services Limited coming out as the winning bidder chosen to deliver the 0 to 19 public health nursing services, which include health visitors and school nurses. This prompted a legal challenge from Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation trust, who currently deliver the service, questioning the county council’s procurement process.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Stuart-Smith made findings in respect of a number of issues, but found against the Trusts on all but one of these. Although the bidding process will not need to be re-run, the Court has ruled that ‘the decision of the council to award the contract to Virgin must be set aside’.
The court did find that the county council’s records of its moderation process fell short of the standards required to evidence the reasons for the scores awarded to the bidders. Consequently it had no choice but to rule that the council cannot proceed with awarding the contract to Virgin.
However, the remainder of the procurement process, including the way in which the panel members evaluated the bids, was found by the Court to have been conducted appropriately. Moderation is the final stage of the procurement process. It involves individual panel members meeting to discuss their scores for each specific question and their reasons for them so the panel can reach a final consensus score.
County Councillor Shaun Turner, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said “Putting services out to the market is not a political decision, it is simply part of what the County Council is required to do in order to meet its legal obligations. Although we’re disappointed in the outcome of this judgement, we are reassured with the exception of the moderation element the County Council’s procurement processes was appropriate and that individual panel members were not found to be at fault.
“However, following this judgement, we accept that we cannot award the contract at this time. We will not be re-running the procurement or inviting new bids as only the moderation, the final step in the procurement process, was considered to be flawed. We are now considering our options about the next steps.
“Our existing contract with LCFT and Blackpool NHS Teaching Hospitals Trust runs until March 2019 so there will be no disruption to these services. We recognise this is a stressful time for our health visitors and school nurses. We value the vital role they play and will continue to support them in delivering the best outcomes for our children and families.”