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GPs ‘will walk’ if ministers do not reword competition rules, says commissioning leader

Exclusive The Government must change the wording of its rules over the use of competition, or risk GPs deserting the entire clinical commissioning process, says the leader of the organisation representing CCGs.

Speaking to Pulse, Dr Michael Dixon, interim president of NHS Clinical Commissioners, said the rules risked forcing commissioners through expensive procurement processes and opened them up to expensive legal claims.

He added that this would mean some ‘would walk’ as the whole clinical commissioning project had been ‘a complete waste of time.’

NHS Clinical Commissioners, the independent organisation representing CCGs, says the wording of the new competition rules set out last week may have a ‘chilling effect’ on CCGs, who need freedom to decide whether to use competition or not.

The new rules, contained in section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act, have reignited the debate over the use of competition and private providers in the NHS.

Today BMA chair Dr Mark Porter called for a Parliamentary debate on the issue of competition in the NHS and the GPC warned earlier this week that GPs will have to waste time and money protecting their services if they are put out to competitive tender.

Speaking to Pulse, Dr Michael Dixon, interim president of NHSCC, said: ‘The danger about the current wording of section 75 is that it seems to put a duty upon the commissioner to go for competition with all contracts that are made.

‘We don’t want to get CCGs bogged down in protracted processes. The aim of clinical commissioning was to innovate to redesign, to try and ensure that we do more outside of hospital and in primary care. Now, if that is their aim and they start getting bogged down in matters of issues of whether or not they are being competitive, that is going to take their eye off the ball.

‘Unless the commissioner is king, the system is going to fall down. And worse still, the clinicians will walk and feel the whole thing has been a complete waste of time.’

He further warned that CCGs may have to defend claims from private companies for not having put service procurement out to tender, which they cannot afford.

He said: ‘It is going to make everyone watching their back and a whole industry of people who challenge things back and forth as to whether they have been sufficiently competitive or not, and opens the window to providers to challenge the CCGs, who with their £25 management allowance are not going to be in a position to go through the complexity of all of this.’

It comes as health minister Lord Howe rebuffed claims that the Department of Health is driving a privatisation agenda, which is why it has ‘always said that competition in the NHS should never be pursued as an end in itself, but only where this is in the interests of patients’.

Dr Dixon said: ‘I welcome those words from Lord Howe, who I think is very much recognising the issues here, but what I would say is that we must get the wording right. It is secondary legislation after all. It must read as what it means.’