Less Open Tenders in e-Health Government Contracts?

In Italy, general principles on government contracts mandate that the provision of services to public administrations must be preceded by the issuing of a public tender allowing various companies to transparently compete for the job. This blog has recently discussed a couple of court decisions that in fact confirmed and further strengthened such principle.

However, a recent decision by the Consiglio di Stato, the higher court which is competent for administrative matters, seems to go in the opposite direction in a case regarding services linked to digital health.

The facts of the case relate to the Lecce health center, located in Puglia, Italy, which assigned to a certain firm the tasks of providing maintenance IT services in the fields of RIS (Radiology Information System) and PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System). The same firm had previously provided IT maintenance in the RIS-PACS field, was the exclusive authorized reseller of the concerned systems and was in charge of the integration of other IT systems already in place the health center. Given such qualifications, the health center refrained from issuing a public tender and instead used the tool of the “negotiated process” with such IT firm only, which is allowed when, due to technical reasons, the supply contract can be assigned only to a single firm. The petitioner of the case, on the contrary, argued that any other qualified IT company was able to integrate and maintain the IT systems.

What is interesting to note is that the Court gives weight to the “special complexity” of the services constituted by the shift to a digital imaging system: under such view, e-Health is viewed as a field fraught with risks (on data, and ultimately on patients), thus allowing to recur to the exception constituted by the “negotiated process” rather than to rely on the rule of open tenders.

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