By Gareth Iacobucci
Health secretary Andrew Lansley has insisted he has no objective to increase private sector involvement in the NHS, as he moved to counter claims that his NHS reforms will pave the way for the privatisation of the health service.
Speaking at the NAPC's GP-led commissioning conference in London on Tuesday, a defiant Mr Lansley hit back at the growing army of critics to his health bill by insisting that competition was 'a means to an end but not an end in itself'.
The beleaguered health secretary has faced a fresh storm of criticism this week from opposition MPs and the profession, with RCGP chair Clare Gerada claiming that implementing it as it stands will cause 'irreparable damage' to the core values of the NHS.
In a clear attempt to re-shift the emphasis of the debate away from privatisation, the health secretary argued that competition was a vehicle for improving patient choice, but insisted he had no ideological wish to see more private sector providers.
He said: 'What is important is for patients to be able to exercise choice. But then they say, "if we have choice, we also have competition, which, if conducted in the wrong way, could fragment those pathways of care that we're looking for".'
'From my point of view, that is never the intention. Competition, [and] the tariff, are means to an end not an end in itself.'
Responding to a question from Nottingham GP Dr Chris Udenze, who asked if Mr Lansley could think of any public health services that haven't ended up in the hands of multi-national corporations following marketisation, the health secretary insisted he was not creating a market, and had no quota for how much private involvement there should be in the NHS.
Mr Lansley said: 'I know what a market is, and we are not creating a market. We are creating a public service, where we are using the benefits of competition to deliver that public service.'
'There's this argument about whether commissioning will end up in the hands of private providers. No it won't. If you choose to use a private sector organisation to provide risk stratification or contract negotiation, that's up to you, but you don't have to.'
He added: 'I am not changing the extent of competition rules in the NHS. I'm not technically creating any specific incentive for the private sector to do more activity in the NHS. I think NHS-owned organisations and the social enterprises being established are quite likely to be competitive and preferred providers. I have no problem with that. I have no objective for a private sector level of activity in the NHS.'
'If you go back five or six years ago, Patricia Hewitt my predecessor actually started saying she had an objective for what proportion of activity from within the NHS from the private sector. I have no such objective.'Andrew Lansley