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Labour and GPC claim new competition legislation will force CCGs to tender all new contracts

Labour and the GPC are to oppose new regulations placed before parliament last week that it claims will force CCGs to put all new contracts out to competitive tender from April 1.

The amendment to section 75 of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act placed before Parliament last week puts the Principles and Rules for Cooperation and Competition previously used by PCTs, onto a statutory footing.

The GPC  - the BMA’s GP committee - claimed the secondary legislation is ‘a betrayal’ of previous Government promises that CCGs should be able to use competition only when it served ‘patient’s interests’.

Shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham told a Save our NHS meeting in Redcar last week that Labour was making plans for immediate action over the amendment as soon as Parliament resumes next week and that MPs would ‘lay prayers’ against the resolution in both Houses of Parliament. Opponents have a 40 day timescale to stop the amendment becoming law.

The rules and principles will subject CCG contracts to competitive tender or to award through Any Qualified Provider except where commissioners can prove the services are capable of being provided only by a single provider.

Critics of the amendment - known as Statutory Instrument 257 - claim that far from giving GPs flexible powers to choose the right provision for patients, it will force competitive markets across the board.

The draft regulations do make one concession, that CCG procurement arrangements ‘must not include any restrictions on competition that are not necessary to achieve intended outcomes which are beneficial for patients’.

But GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said this ‘slight provision’ would still require CCGs to justify when they decided not to use competition and meant using AQP would be the norm for commissioning services.

He said: ‘These regulations are placing a compulsion on CCGs to use competition by default, with exceptions to this occuring in defined instances. I think that reneges on the commitment given by Government to CCGs at the passing of the bill.

Shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham said Labour  would ‘vigorously oppose’  the new regulations.

He told a Save our NHS meeting in Redcar last week that Labour was making plans for immediate action over the amendment as soon as parliament resumes next week and that MPs would ‘lay prayers’ against the resolution in both Houses of Parliament. Opponents have a 40 day timescale to stop the amendment becoming law.

A year ago, the then health secretary, Andrew Lansley made an explicit promise to CCG leaders that they would not be forced to put services out to tender.

He said: ‘I know many of you will have read that you will be forced to fragment services, or to put services out to tender. This is absolutely not the case.’

Responding to press reports, health minister Lord Howe said this week: ‘There is no government policy to privatise all NHS services. These regulations are about ensuring that when services are tendered for, whether from NHS, voluntary sector or independent providers, the rules that are applied to the process are fair to all concerned. They are consistent in all respects with the commitments given by ministers during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

’It is absolutely right to enable a commissioner to seek better alternatives to ensure the highest quality services possible are delivered to patients. This is why we have always said that competition in the NHS should never be pursued as an end in itself, but only where this is in the interests of patients. This principle underpins the right of patients to exercise choice when accessing treatments under the NHS, a right enshrined in the NHS constitution.’

 A petition launched by 38 Degrees - the national group that assists local Save our NHS campaigns – is calling for SI257 to be subject to a full debate and a vote in parliament to withdraw the regulation. Their petition  has amassed more than 12,000 signatures.

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