Government backs down on NHS competition law

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Norman Lamb 2 The Department of Health has agreed to withdraw and revise the current secondary legislation on competition in NHS commissioning.

New regulations, tabled in Parliament a month ago, appeared to give Monitor the power to enforce private sector tendering of virtually all NHS services.

Following protests from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) and over 1,000 GPs, the DH has claimed any difference between this and the former regulations was purely “inadvertent”.

Allowing CCGs to decide which services would be put out to competitive tender was one of the modifications to NHS reform agreed following the ‘listening exercise’.

However, the new secondary legislation appeared to override the ‘discretionary’ powers of CCGs and enforce competition in all areas of care, potentially driving the contracting out of most NHS services to the private sector.

Monitor would be empowered to enforce competitive tendering except where only one qualified provider existed, which is rarely the case.

Last week, a letter signed by over 1,000 GPs was sent to the Daily Telegraph urging a full Parliamentary debate on the new regulations, which will become law by default unless actively opposed.

This weekend, the AMRC wrote to Health Minister Earl Howe expressing “considerable concern” that the regulations disregard assurances formerly given by the DH and would drive a “dangerous” fragmentation of the NHS.

The situation recalls former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s statement that the listening exercise had not significantly altered any aspect of the NHS reform.

However, following the protests, Health Minister Norman Lamb (pictured) said the DH had “inadvertently created confusion and generated significant concerns”, and would revise the secondary legislation to show that it was in line with existing rules.

The revised version will be “fully in line with the assurances given” to the medical professions, he said, and will confirm the power of CCGs to decide which services go out to tender.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said the revision of the secondary legislation, less than a month before it comes into force, shows that “Coalition policy on competition in the NHS is in utter chaos.”