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GPC dismisses Government moves on competition as ‘words not actions’

By Ian Quinn

GP leaders have dismissed Government moves to allay fears over competition in the health bill as ‘words rather than actions’ and called for major changes to the bill to allow consortia new freedoms to chose providers.

The GPC said a letter released yesterday by NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson to trusts saying there was s ‘no question’ of introducing competition on price into the NHS and that any change in services should be based on quality of care, would mean nothing unless the Government amends the health bill.

Instead the GPC is pushing for key changes to the bill, which would rule out competition over price for healthcare completely and give GP consortia sweeping powers to chose which providers they work with.

In his letter Sir David claims competition will not be allowed to hinder GPs and consultants working together to provide integrated care.

‘We are encouraging GPs to work with local hospitals to improve care pathways,’ he writes. ‘This is clearly good practice and is not anti-competitive.’

The letter also says that the use of the controversial ‘any willing provider’ mechanism to award contracts may not apply for all services, and that in some cases GP consortia will be able to designate a ‘prime contractor’ if there are concerns over maintaining patient outcomes or experience.

However, GPC leaders said they had not been consulted over any softening of the bill and warned that the moves could not be interpreted as a significant u-turn unless there were amendments made to the legislation.

GPC chair, Dr Laurence Buckman, said: ‘I want to see this on the face of the bill.’

Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘The letter admits that the Government will be judged on its actions not its words and that is our reaction to the letter. It will mean nothing unless the bill is amended.’

Under the GPC’s proposals, which were backed by an overwhelming majority of members at a GPC meeting yesterday, the bill would be changed to allow consortia to ‘chose which licensed providers are entered on their local lists from which GPs can help patients decide which provider to choose.’

It says GPs ‘should also have access to the national list of licensed providers for patients who wish to make an “out-of-area choice”‘

Fears over plans to abolish the minimum price providers receive from the NHS for providing services have formed a key part of objections to the bill, with organisations including the BMA and the RCGP leading the outcry but GPC negotiators were left in the dark by Sir David’s apparent attempt to soften opposition.

Dr Buckman admitted GPC leaders had been told nothing of the letter adding: ‘They never discussed things with us. This is my nth health bill and I’ve lived through this sort of thing time and time again.’

However, Dr Vautrey said: ‘If this does end up with the Government rowing back hopefully it is a sign that it is at long last listening.’

Dr Laurence Buckman