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Preferred provider

Practical Commissioning's Jargon Buster explains the meaning of the term 'Preferred provider'.

What the NHS is, according to Health Secretary Andy Burnham. In a surprise reversal of previous rhetoric about contestability, he announced: ‘With quality at its core, I think the NHS can finally move beyond the polarising debates of the last decade over private or public sector provision.' Speaking at the King's Fund last September, he added: ‘Let me begin with where I stand on this debate, and that is that the NHS is our preferred provider.'

Guidance to PCTs has not yet been published but NHS chief executive David Nicholson has said it will include ‘a clearer process that will provide an opportunity for existing providers to improve before opening up to new potential providers'. NHS organisations should have the opportunity to bid for any new or redesigned services. An updated PCT Procurement Guide for Health Services, not yet released, will give details of the processes they are to follow, including engaging NHS organisations, staff and unions.

The policy has been challenged by charities and businesses. In January, the NHS Co-operation and Competition Panel accepted a complaint from the NHS Partners Network of companies and a group of voluntary organizations about being excluded from bidding for community services run by Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT.

The NHS is unlikely to retain preferred provider status should the general election this year return a Conservative government. The Tory draft manifesto, released in January, says: ‘We will open up the NHS to include new independent and voluntary-sector providers — if they can deliver a service that patients want, to a high standard and within the NHS tariff, they should be allowed to do so.'