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Tories open up talks with private firms

By Ian Quinn, Gareth Iacobucci

The Conservatives have opened talks with a series of private firms after pledging to step up the role of the independent sector in the NHS.

The party told Pulse talks were ongoing with ‘a wide range' of providers from the private and voluntary sectors, as part of moves to create a more competitive NHS marketplace should it win the election.

But the policy, outlined in a manifesto document released last week, puts the Conservatives on a collision course with the BMA, which has issued a fresh appeal for politicians to slam the brakes on private sector involvement in the NHS.

A draft health manifesto, unveiled by leader David Cameron, confirmed plans for GPs to take control of real commissioning budgets, which could see practices working in partnership with private firms.

It states a Conservative government would ‘open up the NHS to include new independent and voluntary sector providers', which would be allowed to compete on a level footing with NHS providers.

It is the Tories' strongest statement yet on the role of the private sector in the NHS, and puts clear water between them and Labour – with health secretary Andy Burnham instructing PCTs to make NHS providers first choice in all tendering.

The extent of the Government's U-turn was underlined after its new policy faced scrutiny from its own Co-operation and Competition panel. NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney was referred for excluding non-NHS providers from a tendering process.

The Conservative proposals came just days after the BMA issued a set of resolutions, including a call for politicians to stop ‘wasting taxpayers' money' on ‘unnecessary and expensive commercial-sector solutions'.

David Stout, director of the NHS Confederation's PCT network, said the Tories had indicated they were keen for GPs to partner with private firms such as UnitedHealth, Bupa and Humana on commissioning.

Tory NHS pledges

• Open up NHS to competition from private and voluntary sectors
• Scrap NHS targets
• Give GPs power to hold patient budgets and commission care
• Divert resources to poorest areas
• Cut NHS red tape by a third
• Unleash ‘information revolution' by making detailed data about the performance of trust and GPs available online

Conservative Party leader David Cameron unveiled the draft health manifesto last week

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