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Preferred provider policy could be 'illegal', former health minister warns

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Government's own lawyers think its policy of treating the NHS as the ‘preferred provider' is illegal, a former health minister has claimed.

Labour peer Lord Warner criticised health secretary Andy Burnham's pledge to prioritise the NHS over private or voluntary sector providers, saying DH legal experts thought it was ultra vires.

Lord Warner highlighted the case in the east of England where 14 PCTs were prevented from putting their community services out to tender following Government intervention, and challenged ministers to prove the legality of the policy.

His comments came amid rumours that senior Cabinet members have leant on the health secretary to urge him to tone down the policy, which critics say runs contrary to the Government's stated aim of encouraging plurality of provision by stimulating the primary care market.

But in an exclusive interview with Pulse last week, Mr Burnham insisted he stood behind the policy.

'I would defend that position to the hilt because I believe it's the right, fair and common sense position to hold,' he said.

Lord Norman Warner

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