Channel players have questioned the terms being offered by the NHS for its £2.3bn National Programme for IT, after a key supplier ruled itself out of the bidding process.
US systems and services giant Lockheed Martin has dropped out of the running to be one of the national application service providers (NASPs) after making the short list of three last month.
Lockheed's decision leaves just BT and IBM Global Services vying for the NASP contract to supply NHS care records.
John Griffith, consulting director at healthcare reseller Compusys, said the company's decision to pull out suggested that the terms set for suppliers were high and offered unattractive benefits.
"Lockheed Martin's decision makes sense if the terms set and benefits gained do not add up from a business point of view," he said.
Resellers, poised to provide much of the second tier of suppliers, have been left in the dark as the appointment of suppliers drags on, he added.
"When we approach the NHS with new business it has a degree of caution, which is frustrating because we are trying to build a business out of this," he said.
The NHS has played down the withdrawal of Lockheed Martin. A representative for the organisation said: "We are pleased that [the supplier] has given us notice of its withdrawal now, rather than at a later stage of the competition, and value the efforts it has made."
A Lockheed Martin representative declined to provide a reason for the firm's decision.
Lockheed Martin is currently also bidding for the Ministry of Defence's (MoD's) £4bn 10-year Defence Information Infrastructure contract.
Robert Morgan, chief executive of outsourcing consultancy Morgan Chambers, said the firm may not have enough European presence to handle both deals.
"The company is huge in the US but has a smaller footprint in Europe. It would struggle to bid for both," he said. "The MoD project will not have as much political pressure and contractual demands as the NHS contract."
IBM Global Services and Accenture have distanced themselves from rumours that they too plan to withdraw because of the toughness of the terms.
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