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Government urged to show some ‘cojones’ and ramp up NHS private provision

By Ian Quinn

A former Labour health minister has urged the Department of Health to have the courage to go further than the previous Government in ramping up competition for providing services, including bringing in private firms to run GP surgeries in the poorest parts of the country.

Speaking at the Reform conference, Lord Warner said he had been frustrated in his attempts to expand competition during Gordon Brown's reign as Prime Minister, and admitted efforts to bring in competition had been a ‘mixed experience'.

He said: ‘What the new Government needs is a bit of cojones, as the Spanish would say.'

‘A burst of competition in primary care in some of the areas in the poorest areas in the country could do quite a lot to improve the health expectation of people in these parts of the country.'

The call for new firms to enter the market was backed by the head of a regulatory body which will be handed major new powers under the White Paper to oversee the expected surge in competition.

Steve Bundred, chair of the powerful economic regulator, Monitor, said increased competition was essential to generating the savings required in the NHS, which he said could surpass the £20bn identified in the Government's White paper.

Mr Bundred told the Reform conference: ‘There may have to be much more than that [£20bn].'

‘We believe that it's important to drive competition wherever possible. We acknowledge there will be some areas where it is not appropriate, but we believe it can be a way to drive down costs.'

Lord Warner Lord Warner