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Forget privatisation – AQP’s about improvement

With the benefit of hindsight it may have been a mistake in describing a process to develop competitive neutrality within the NHS as ‘Any Willing Provider'. This policy development, in which I was involved, was created during the former Government's ‘next stage review' for the NHS and Practice Based Commissioning over five years ago.

Now refreshed as ‘Any Qualified Provider', this policy aims to reduce bureaucracy by removing the need for tendering and to bolster the supply side of the NHS when current providers do not deliver against commissioning plans.

It is well-regulated in that it's not just about any company willing to provide.

An AQP must meet NHS standards through CQC approval and work with NHS contracts.

It must provide care within the national tariff set by Monitor and, like all NHS bodies, cannot contract on price.

Nor can an AQP be guaranteed any volume of work within a contract. The risk in not receiving referrals lies with the AQP, and contracts should be placed for a care pathway, not just an item of service, when ‘cherry picking' potentially becomes a problem.

What is also often misunderstood is that discussion with existing providers, where care is being delivered effectively and efficiently is not anti-competitive.

Monitor has powers for anti-competitive activity and to use these to disrupt existing quality services well received by a local population is unthinkable and would rightly cause a public outcry.

The supply and demand within our NHS needs reforming, with a restructured management support system and more proficient transactions.

And no, this is not the privatisation of the NHS – it's just part of a continuum in the improvement of care.

Dr James Kingsland OBE is senior partner at the St Hilary Brow Group Practice, Wallasey, Merseyside, National Clinical Lead, NHS Clinical Commissioning Community, and president of the NAPC