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NHS contracts worth over €500k to be opened up to European competition

GP commissioners will be required to advertise all contracts worth more than €500,000 in the Official Journal of the European Union under proposed revisions to EU procurement rules.

The changes outlined this week by the European Parliament and European Council propose the new threshold to give greater clarity to commissioning organisations on which services need to be advertised to the open European market.

Medical services will not be subject to the full force of EU procurement law despite plans to remove the distinction between so-called ‘Part A’ services which are fully regulated and ‘Part B’ which have a much lighter regime.

The plans acknowledge that health services, currently part of Part B, need a less draconian set of procurement rules because they have less cross-border interest, although high-value contracts will still have to be opened up to the European market.

Rachael Whitaker, associate solicitor at Browne Jacobson LLP, said the plans should give greater clarity to commissioners.

She told Pulse: ‘From a procurement angle I think it will give health bodies greater clarity because a lot have always been nervous in the past about whether cross border interest exists and therefore whether such contracts should be let in a more regulated manner.’

‘Where there is a possibility of cross-border interest then there are some basic obligations that those contracting authorities need to comply with when letting contracts. Those obligations revolve around advertising obligations and compliance with the European principles relating to equality and transparency amongst others.

‘Those core principles remain good guiding principles for any procurement activity in any event and should be considered as a matter of best practice.‘

Ms Whitaker added: ‘The proposal from the Commission is to abolish distinction between Part ‘A’ and ‘B’ services. However, it has recognised that health and social care services are unique and, therefore, should not be subject to the full rigourof the regulations.’

‘This will be a benefit going forward as previously contracting authorities have had to make a judgement call (albeit informed) on the likelihood of cross border interest and have a good audit trail. Now, the threshold will give them some objective guidance.’

The commission hopes to have the directive adopted by the end of 2012, with implementation in EU member states by 30th June 2014.