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CSP welcomes 11th hour U-turn

The government has rewritten the rules on competitive tendering in the NHS just weeks before the new commissioning bodies in England were due to start implementing them.

Ministers withdrew the regulations for commissioners on procurement and competition after opponents claimed clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) would be forced to put almost every NHS service out to tender.

The new version of what was known as section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act places much greater emphasis on integration and co-operation in the NHS.

There will now be no requirement to put all contracts out to competitive tendering, and Monitor will not be empowered to force commissioners to hold competitive tenders.

The original version had only been published in February, and an announcement by health minister Norman Lamb that the amended rules would place less emphasis on competition was branded a ‘humiliating U-turn’ by the opposition.

The new regulations, which come into force on 1 April, prohibit anti-competitive behaviour by commissioners – unless this would benefit patients. But they make it clear that this could include greater integration or co-operation to improve the quality of services.

CSP chief executive Phil Gray welcomed the change of tack following lobbying by various organisations, including the society. ‘But it leaves a deep worry that the real intention of the NHS and Social Care Act is to turn the NHS into an open marketplace for all its services,’ he said.

Earlier this month, delegates at the CSP’s annual representative conference unanimously backed a call for the government to place restrictions on GPs in the new CCGs who might have conflicting interests as stakeholders in private healthcare providers.

To see the new regulations, visit: www.dh.gov.uk/health/2013/03/pccr

See also ‘In Perspective’, page 22.

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