Executives at some IT suppliers say their companies have wasted money bidding in an open competitive tender when an NHS foundation trust had already chosen to buy the Cerner electronic patient records system.The Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust decided to buy the Cerner software last July - and went out to open competitive tender the following month, Computer Weekly has learned.
Bidders spent up to £250,000 each on at least three months of work to win the contract, which included attending workshops and re-submitting proposals and prices as the competition progressed.
Contenders included iSoft, Intersystems and GE.
Minutes dated 29 July 2008 say that Royal Berkshire's board resolved to seek a strategic partner "through which Cerner software could be procured and implemented".
But the same board minutes say that the US University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre was already the "primary choice to be the trust's strategic partner". The Pittsburgh Medical Centre uses and markets the Cerner system.
Despite this preference for the Cerner software and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre as strategic partner, the Royal Berkshire advertised the following month a contract to "supply, implement, and maintain an integrated electronic patient record solution with related training and support services".
The advert was placed in the Official Journal of the European Communities on 12 August 2008.
Not having seen the board minutes at that stage, suppliers took it that the trust's board had an open mind. Teams from the suppliers worked over Christmas 2008, to tight timescales, on finalising their bids.
Royal Berkshire has now chosen the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre as its preferred partner to deliver a Cerner electronic patient records system. The purchase is outside of the NHS's National Programme for IT and is expected to cost at least £14m over three years.
Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has also opted for Cerner with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre as strategic partner.
A spokesman for the Royal Berkshire told Computer Weekly, "We initiated a brand new procurement process for an electronic patient record in August 2008. This was a fully compliant OJEU [Official Journal of the European Communities] process with a comprehensive output-based specification, which defined the trust's requirements in detail.
"This large-scale exercise involved a great deal of investment by ourselves, and our workforce devoted thousands of hours of work to ensuring the best possible solution to our needs was identified.
"Our clinicians and operational staff designed from scratch new specifications. Our doctors and nurses developed detailed requirements for their own patients and for the assessments and treatments which they deliver. All of this work was generated afresh for the new procurement process.
"Each bidder was given equal opportunity to demonstrate their ability to meet the detailed specification and our clinicians were tasked with selecting the most robust solution to meet their needs. Throughout the process we followed the Office of Government Commerce's competitive dialogue procedure to conduct a complex and extensive evaluation.
"This robust and equitable process has left us confident that our agreement with UPMC to deliver an electronic patient record will offer our patients and the taxpayer the greatest benefits."
Executives working for some of the bidders say the Royal Berkshire competition was not only expensive but might have lost them other contracts. Suppliers have to make choices on what contracts to bid for, because they cannot afford the money and people to respond to all tenders. Some of the bidders say that competing for the Royal Berkshire's contract tied up people who could have been working on a different bid.