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Lords rubberstamps controversial competition regulations

The House of Lords last night rubberstamped the Government’s controversial competition regulations, amid warnings that it will hinder CCGs’ powers to act in the best interest of their patients and represents a step towards the privatisation of the NHS.

Peers voted against a motion to ‘kill’ the Section 75 regulations, which state that CCGs must put all services out to tender unless they can prove it could only be provided by one particular provider, by 254 to 146.

The regulations have been criticised by the BMA, NHS Clinical Commissioners and CCG leaders, who fear they will hamper CCGs’ freedoms, while the NHS Confederation warned ahead of the vote that it could create ‘a barrage of bureaucratic procedures’ for CCGs.

Lord Hunt, the Labour peer who proposed the motion to stymie the regulations, said this represents a step towards privatisation.

He said: ‘Every day, up and down the country, a market is unfolding in the NHS. People in the NHS believe that that is happening. They are seeing contracts already being won by the private sector. They see themselves being undercut, and they worry about the fragmentation of services and about the overall intent of the Government.’

He added: ‘The general confusion about these regulations will inevitably lead to cases coming before the courts. The advice that will be given to many CCGs by their legal advisers is to act defensively and to go out to more competitive tendering than the noble [health minister] Earl [Howe]has suggested.’

Earl Howe said the regulations were vital. He said: ‘In one sense, the regulations can be seen as unexceptional, because they largely carry forward existing rules and arrangements; but in another sense they are more than that. They are vital for anyone who believes that the central interest that the NHS should have at its heart is that of the patient.’

Earlier in the day, NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar said: ‘Where competition is the most effective route to improving care, CCGs need to be able to use it at their own local discretion, rather than have it forced upon them for all services.

‘Using competition in such an arbitrary fashion would potentially create a barrage of bureaucratic tendering and procurement procedures, which would inevitably be paid for at the taxpayers’ expense. This is not in the interest of commissioners or any aspirant new providers.’

But David Worskett, chief executive of the NHS Partners Network, the representative body for non-NHS providers, said: ‘Despite allegations to the contrary, the regulations do not require all NHS services to be put out to tender. Commissioners will have wide discretion as to when to use full procurement procedures and we are confident they will do so appropriately.

‘The NHS is not able to survive and thrive without the help of new providers who bring innovation and integration, which we know drives up quality. But to enable them to enter the system, fair, open and transparent procurement processes are essential and this is what the new regulations provide.’


Updated at 8:00am on Thursday 25 April