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Government’s provider policy clarified by Burnham

The CSP has welcomed a government ‘shift in policy’ on commissioning, saying it has given staff a better framework for keeping services in the NHS.

Health secretary Andy Burnham has outlined new proposals setting out what is meant by the NHS as ‘our preferred provider’.

Existing providers are now to be given explicit opportunities to improve and potentially retain services before they are put out to open tender. The minister explained the policy in a letter to TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.

He specified core principles that commissioners would have to adhere to when considering service changes.

One is that there should be early and full engagement with existing NHS providers, their staff and trade unions.

Andy Burnham gave six typical scenarios where new processes would apply. For example, primary care trusts would have to work with existing NHS providers and give them a chance to address particular problems or concerns, such as alleged underperformance.

PCTs considering service redesign would have to allow existing providers to contribute to shaping service specifications.

The latest move follows extensive talks with the NHS Social Partnership Forum, which is made up of union and employer representatives and the Department of Health. The forum’s staff passport group met last month and agreed a joint statement to support the measures.

Lesley Mercer, CSP director of employment relations and union services and SPF member said: ‘The government policy of the NHS being the preferred provider has now been given clarity and teeth.’

Lesley Mercer cautioned that it wouldn’t solve every problem associated with commissioning and did not take away the imperative for all physiotherapy services to examine how they currently deliver services to ensure best value.

But, she told Frontline: ‘CSP members now have a better framework for keeping NHS services where they belong: in the NHS.

‘We hope commissioners will re-examine their plans in light of the policy and that members, managers and trade union representatives will now press commissioners to look again at in-house options for service provision rather than contemplating moving services to private providers or social enterprises.’

Lesley Mercer said: ‘The CSP will now be working closely with other health unions through the SPF to identify the revisions necessary to Department of Health operational guidelines, to ensure they fit with the new government policy.’

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