Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been challenged by clinical IT vendor Cerner over its recent eHospital electronic patient record procurement, in which Cerner was beaten by US arch rival Epic.
The firm accuses the high-profile trust of failing to conduct a fair and transparent tender process and of picking a winner in advance - which it then rigged the tender process to deliver - ignoring considerations of price and proven product.
Cerner calls for the trust to re-tender, a suggestion that Cambridge has given short-shrift.
A trust spokesman said: “The trust has run an open and fair OJEU competition in line with public procurement processes. The trust is continuing to proceed with the procurement process for eHospital.”
In April, eHealth Insider reported that Epic had won the Cambridge University Hospitals and Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust joint electronic patient record procurement, with contracts expected to be signed by the end of June.
The trusts selected Epic, ahead of a shortlist of Cerner and Allscripts, in one of the most important NHS IT procurements in recent years. The outcome means Cambridge will become Epic’s first UK reference site.
Sources close to the procurement insist that the highly unusual move by Cerner “is not about sour grapes” but that it was triggered when the company received extremely odd supplier feedback on the procurement “that made clear price wasn’t a primary factor considered.”
The allegations of a rigged procurement are set out in a letter to the trust’s interim chief executive, Dr Karen Castille, from Cerner’s vice president and managing director Alan Fowles.
This says the company “has never considered contesting” a previous decision, because “tender processes have been conducted in a fair and transparent manner” but “sadly, the same cannot be said for the tender you have overseen.”
The letter accuses the trusts of not looking at price as part of the evaluation criteria; of favourably scoring Epic’s unproven patient administration system; and of running the short-listing process twice after the first round “failed to give you a shortlist that included Epic.”
The central allegation made is that the trust had made up its mind that it wanted Epic and changed the procurement process to get the desired result, breaking a series of procurement rules.
Sources suggest that the Epic bid was in the region of £30m, up to 50% more expensive than other shortlisted suppliers.
“Having reviewed feedback from Cambridge University Hospitals’ e-hospital tender, we had significant concerns about how the procurement was conducted,” the letter says.
“We find it difficult not to conclude that you had made a pre-determined decision to award the tender to Epic some time before you designed the procurement process; this, in turn, put every other vendor that chose to enter the process to considerable effort and expense with no realistic possibility of winning the tender.
“We believe that the only fair way to resolve this matter is to publically re-tender and we therefore urge you to reconsider your decision.”
Cerner’s European boss then goes on to remind the trust that it is a public body and has a duty to ensure tax-payers money is spent “wisely, fairly and in a transparent manner.”
The letter, which has also been sent to the trust’s chairman, Dame Mary Archer, also requests that Cambridge publishes “full details” of its internal documentation in relation to the tender.
The Cerner letter also alleges that earlier, unseen correspondence with the trust’s lawyers had “already acknowledged that aspects of your procurement process were highly inappropriate.”
EHI understands that Cerner’s lawyers have been in contact with the trust but the company was unwilling to confirm whether it would mount a full legal challenge should the trusts decline to respond as desired.
Read EHI editor Jon Hoeksma's analysis of Cerner's decision and what it could mean for the NHS IT market in Insight.
© 2012 EHealth Media.
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