The tender process that resulted in the appointment of ‘best friends’ DLA and Allen & Overy (A&O) for the £2.3bn National Programme for IT in the NHS has been dubbed a “shambles” by lawyers involved in the process.

The process was conducted over a two-week period in November, following the appointment of IT star Richard Granger.

“One of the bizarrest and thoroughly disillusioning experiences I’ve ever had,” said one lawyer who tendered.

A programme spokesperson said due process was followed at all times and a long list of firms with relevant experience was drawn up, which was then reduced to the eight believed to have the best experience and capacity to fulfil the requirements.

Only six of the eight actually pitched for the project, which is expected to generate legal fees of around £2m a year. Denton Wilde Sapte was one of the eight firms invited to tender, but declined because of a conflict. The firm advised supplier EDS on the new NHS email system and on a series of electronic patient records deals.

“We were not aware of any conflicts of interest of any of the firms asked to tender. As part of the process, they were asked to confirm whether they had conflicts of interest,” said the spokesperson.

The other firms that pitched were: Addleshaw Booth & Co, Beachcroft Wansbroughs, Herbert Smith and Simmons & Simmons. Bird & Bird, one of the UK’s top IT outsourcing firms and a firm that is also on the NHS panel, was not invited to tender.

The NHS Purchasing and Supplies Agency and the financial director of the Department of Health ran the procurement process.