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Think tank attacks Labour over private sector U-turn

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Government's decision to reign in the use of markets and competition is a retrograde step that will leave the NHS struggling to meet huge financial pressures, according to a new report.

The report by the think tank Civitas, entitled Markets in health care, accuses Labour of rowing back on seven years of reform to appease the TUC, and says the Government is ‘mired in confusion'.

It comes after the Government's recent announcement that under-performing NHS providers would be given ‘at least two chances' to improve before turning to alternative providers, signaling a U-turn on the extent to which the NHS should use the market.

The report says the use of markets is creating more efficiency, innovation, and equity in the NHS, and criticises the Government for using the word 'competition' only once in its recently-launched five year plan for the NHS.

It argues that the Government is wrong to place its reliance purely on the trust and professionalism of existing staff, because ‘the interests of providers and professional groups sometimes trump those of patients.'

The report also argues that simply asking users to express their dissatisfaction or satisfaction with services is an inadequate way of driving improvements.

It asks: 'What, without the ultimate threat of exit that exists in markets, or threat of sanctions that exists in state direction, ultimately incentivises the disinterested provider to improve?'

James Gubb, director of the health unit at Civitas, said: ‘At a time when real clarity of vision is required for the NHS, the Government is in a state of confusion.'

‘No-one is saying that markets are perfect, but we should not lose sight of the flaws in other models. When operating in the correct framework, the potential of markets to drive innovation and efficiency by empowering those at the 'coal face' can deliver change like no other system.'

Dr Martin Kirkup, group marketing director at private provider Care UK, said Civitas was ‘absolutely right to warn of the dangers of pulling back from reform'.

He said: ‘In tough economic times increased efficiencies and value for money are vital to keep the NHS improving and meeting public expectations.'

‘In recent years the introduction of competition has done exactly that while giving patients much needed choice and also helping the NHS to dramatically cut waiting times. The Government should be looking to accelerate this activity.'

The use of markets is creating more efficiency, innovation, and equity in the NHS, Civitas argues The use of markets is creating more efficiency, innovation, and equity in the NHS, Civitas argues

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