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‘Backdoor’ privatisation row reaches climax

5 March 2013

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt may be forced to rewrite the “controversial” Section 75 regulation for fears of rebellion in the Houses of Parliament. 
The guidelines on competition, which Labour said would introduce “backdoor privatisation”, were laid out by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt just last week. 
‘Controversial’ guidelines
Described by the British Medical Association (BMA) as one of the “most controversial aspects” of the Health and Social Care Act, the government has claimed Section 75 will “enshrine the principle that it is for commissioners to decide how to improve the quality and efficiency of services”. 
However, critics believe Section 75 will promote private providers by forcing CCGs to consider them on the same basis as NHS providers. 
The guidelines say CCGs must “treat providers equally and in a non-discriminatory way… including by not treating a provider… more favourably than any other provider, in particular on the basis of ownership.” 
‘Significant implications’
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) wrote a letter to health minister Lord Earl Howe expressing concerns. 
In the letter, RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada said: “It is clear to us that, as they currently stand, the regulations will be interpreted by CCGs as requiring services to be put out to competition. 
“This will have significant implications for local determination, stability of services and transaction costs.”
Gerada has urged the government to withdraw the regulations, as they would need “significant changes”. 
‘Waste of time’
Interim NHS Clinical Commissioners president Dr Michael Dixon told Pulse NHS reforms would be a “complete waste of time” if Section 75 is not amended. 
The rules could force commissioners through expensive procurement processes and open them up to expensive legal claims, according to Dixon. 
He 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.” 
Labour MP Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary, said: “The government needs to start listening and they should start by withdrawing these regulations without delay.
“What is now clear is that the medical professions and Parliament have been treated with contempt – the government is now forcing competition through the back door.
“People have never given them the permission to put the NHS up for the sale and they need to be forced to remember that.”
However, NHS Partners Network said the government should stand firm on their proposals. 
Chief executive of the independent healthcare provider association, David Worskett said: “The regulations as drafted are consistent with overall governing procurement and competition law.” 
Worskett added: “Watering them down can only create ambiguity and leave patients, taxpayers, commissioners and providers in a worse position.”