At least 11 contractors have been shortlisted for the Procure 21+ framework, through which the NHS expects to spend £3bn over four years

Invitations to tender will be issued today to companies including Willmott Dixon and Henry Boot, neither of which is on the existing framework.

All the incumbents are understood to have been kept in the running, except for Costain, which pulled out of the race last month. They are: Laing O’Rourke, Kier Health, Bam Nuttall, Balfour Beatty, Medcinq, Integrated Health Projects (a joint venture between Vinci and Sir Robert McAlpine) and Interserve Health.

However, it is understood Morgan Ashurst and Mace failed to make the grade. One consultant said: “Mace is the surprise. A lot of people were encouraging it to go for it on its own because they thought it had something new to bring to the table.”

The news follows criticism of the prequalification process, which meant there were just 18 submissions. A bidder said: “It was one of the hardest ever – that probably put bidders off.”

Bidders have until 29 January to submit their tenders. Contracts are due to be signed in May.