07 September 2006 | Paul Snell
A primary care trust is being forced to back down over its award of a contract to run a GP's surgery to a private firm.
North Eastern Derbyshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) had selected UnitedHealth Europe (UHE), a subsidiary of US firm UnitedHealth Group, as its "preferred bidder" to run a surgery for 7,500 patients in Creswell at the end of last year.
But parish councillor Pam Smith challenged the award in court, arguing that the public had not been consulted on the decision.
In June the High Court dismissed Smith's challenge, saying she should have sought an "alternative remedy", such as complaining to a local patients' forum, rather than seeking a judicial review. But last month the Court of Appeal overturned the verdict and ordered the PCT to go through the tender process again and consult the public on the criteria used.
The PCT told SM
its interpretation of the judgment was that retendering was only a possibility. It said it would only do so if the public disagreed with the criteria it used to select UHE.
"It would be premature to speculate on where consultation may take this process," it added.
But Keep Our NHS Public, which has supported Smith's case, said it believed the trust had no choice but to retender.
The organisation said this was among the first of such deals to privatise PCT services and as such the judgment would have "serious implications for government policy".
But the Department of Health disagreed. It told SM: "It has no wider implications for the NHS or government plans to introduce new providers in primary care."