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Government urged not to turn its back on competition

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Government must not lose its nerve by turning its back on competition or watering down the role of Monitor, according to the head of the NHS Confederation's private companies network.

David Worskett, director of the NHS Partners Network, which represents private companies such as Assura Medical and Care UK, urged the NHS not to turn its back on choice and competition despite the adverse publicity surrounding the Government's NHS reforms, and warned that scaling back the role of Monitor as an economic regulator would simply lead to more cases going through the courts.

Speaking today at a Westminster Health Forum conference this week, Mr Worskett added that he felt the Government had treated the private sector 'shabbily' by excluding them from the Future Forum discussion panel overseeing the listening exercise on health secretary Andrew Lansley's controversial reforms.

The intervention comes as deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg set himself on a collision course with Mr Lansley by signaling his intent to push for Monitor's role as an economic regulator to be removed, and that it should instead promote collaboration and protect the interests of patients.

But Mr Worskett said well-managed competition was essential if the NHS was to respond to the huge demographic and financial challenges it faced.

He said: 'There is now a danger that if the NHS turns its back on competition, it may be depriving itself of one of the levers it needs to help it adapt and respond to the huge demographic and financial challenges it faces in the next 20 years, whilst maintaining and improving patient care.'

He added: 'Good economic and competition regulation can promote the integration of services. Integration and competition are not fundamentally incompatible. But to manage them constructively together you need a strong specialist economic regulator, which is why watering down the role of Monitor could have exactly the opposite effect to the one desired.'

'We need to grasp the fact that Monitor is the answer to concerns about the role of competition, not the cause of them. A specialist competition regulator is vastly preferable to having the application of competition law developed by the courts.'

Responding to a question from the floor on the Government's listening exercise, Mr Worskett said it was 'a great shame' that the private sector had been excluded from the Future Forum panel.

He said: 'It's a shabby way of treating a collection of providers who we have been trying to co-operate with for almost a decade. We have an awful lot to offer.'

David Worskett