As hospital-based infections set to rise, best not change the vendor behind the system that tracks them, hm?

Now's not the time for competition, says Public Health England

Public Health England (PHE), one of the agencies responsible for managing the nation's COVID-19 outbreak, is extending a contract with one of its main IT providers without competition to avoid disruption to a vital disease monitoring system.

Since 2015, IT consulting and services company CGI has run PHE's Healthcare Acquired Infection Data Capture System (HCAI DCS), which captures data from private and NHS health providers on positive cases of infection acquired in healthcare settings.

These kinds of infection, in particular MRSA, were on the rise in the early part of the century, prompting the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to declare in 2014 that rates were too high, leading to "quality standards" being issued.

As a contract for the system that monitors these infections was set to be re-tendered, PHE decided it was not the right time to move to a new supplier.

"PHE are currently seeing co-infection of HCAI [healthcare-associated infections] with COVID-19 and anticipate increases in the traditional HCAI pathogens following the COVID-19 response," the tender document states.

"The HCAI DCS is key to tracking and providing additional epidemiological information on these infections. National statistics on key HCAI are generated from the data the HCAI DCS collects and these statistics are used by [NHS England] to generate and monitor performance indicators for NHS trusts."

The problem, according to PHE, is that the system is so complex, any new supplier would take some time to get up to speed.

"Delivering the change requests requires detailed understanding of the complex IT architecture, as one small change in one component could have significant impact on other parts of the system. As a result, the chosen supplier must have vast experience and knowledge of the HCAI DCS System to maintain a stable and safe environment," the tender says.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, changes to the system need to be made quickly, according to the PHE tender.

"Changing the supplier of system support and development would put delivery of timely changes at risk as a detailed knowledge transfer process would need to be undertaken before changes could be made. This would also put undue pressure on the PHE team that manage the system on a daily basis as they would be required to be involved in both the knowledge transfer and in closely overseeing the change request process, putting COVID-19 response and business as usual activities at risk."

As a result of the combination of in-house and single supplier knowledge of the system, PHE has granted a three-year extension of the contract to Canadian systems integrator CGI IT, which has already been doing the work for five years, in a deal worth just under £700,000, without any further competition.

This is allowed under procurement law for services which "have become necessary and were not included in the initial procurement, where a change of contractor cannot be made for economic or technical reasons such as requirements of interchangeability or interoperability with existing equipment, services or installations procured under the initial procurement, or would cause significant inconvenience or substantial duplication of costs for the contracting authority."

PHE has not yet responded to The Register's request for comment. ®

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