11th-hour change to NHS procurement laws amid privatisation fears

11-Mar-2013

Government announces last-minute rewrite of new regulations to reassure CCGs they \'will not be forced into competitive tendering\'

Controversial new procurement rules for NHS trusts are being rewritten at the 11th hour as government officials attempt to clear up confusion over the role of GP clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

Health Minister, Norman Lamb, announced last week that regulations on the NHS procurement process, due to come into effect on 1 April, are being rehashed.

Speaking in the House of Commons on 5 March, he said regulations 257, which cover the NHS procurement process, would be re-written to make it clear that ‘no CCG will be forced into competitive tendering’.

We take this very seriously and we want there to be no doubt about what these regulations do. That is why we are acting quickly to make them clearer. We intend to lay revised regulations in the next few days

The Department of Health (DH) published the document - also known as section 75 regulations as they clarify section 75 of the Health & Social Care Act 2012 - on 13 February, incurring opposition from politicians and various medical bodies.

Labour claimed that the regulations would promote NHS privatisation because CCGs would have to consider private providers on the same basis as existing NHS providers.

At last week’s hearing, Sefton Central MP, Bill Esterson, said: “The regulations, as they stand, make privatisation of the NHS swift and inevitable.”

And Professor Clare Gerada, chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, earlier wrote a letter to health minister, Lord Howe, stating that regulations would have ‘significant implications for local determination, stability of services and transaction costs’.

But Lamb said the new regulations, which would be ‘ready in days’, would clear up any confusion.

He added: “The Government’s reforms are about putting the clinician centre stage in decisions about how money is spent, rather than unaccountable bureaucrats, as happened in primary care trusts up and down the country.

“It is absolutely not the case that the regulations, as currently drafted, drive the privatisation of the NHS. The amended regulations will make it abundantly clear that CCGs will be in the driving seat. They will take into account the importance of co-operation, integration and putting the patient’s interest first.

The regulations, as they stand, make privatisation of the NHS swift and inevitable

A DH spokesman added: "It has never been and is absolutely not the government\'s intention to make all NHS services subject to competitive tendering.

"The regulations seek simply to maintain the existing position on procurement, which was introduced before May 2010 and is set out in existing NHS guidance and UK procurement law.

"But, we recognise there are concerns about the precise wording of the regulations. We take this very seriously and we want there to be no doubt about what these regulations do. That is why we are acting quickly to make them clearer. We intend to lay revised regulations in the next few days."

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Lamb claimed the new processes would ensure there is no ‘unfair competition whereby private providers get handed guaranteed income on a plate, irrespective of whether or not they did the work’.

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