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BMA demands withdrawal of competition rules

Regulations should explicitly state that tendering is not mandatory

Louise Prime

Thursday, 18 April 2013

BMA leaders have this afternoon demanded the withdrawal and replacement of controversial rules on competition in the Health and Social Care Act. They have written to peers, ahead of next Wednesday’s ‘crucial’ House of Lords debate on the Act, calling for changes that explicitly guarantee that competition should not be mandatory in commissioning.

The BMA insists in its briefing paper, sent today to all peers, that the regulations setting out how patient choice and competition will operate under the act must be withdrawn. It says they must be replaced with new regulations that “unambiguously reflect previous Government assurances that commissioners will not be forced to use competition when making their commissioning decisions” and explicitly state this principle.

The BMA said that although the regulations on competition and patient choice were intended to ensure good procurement practice, they “have continued to prompt widespread concern and uncertainty about the apparent requirement for competitive tendering for most health services”. It reiterated its warning that the NHS in England would find it harder to deliver high quality, cost-effective and integrated care to patients, if mandatory competition for all services were brought in – because it would lead to fragmentation of services and unnecessary costs from the tendering process.

Dr Mark Porter (pictured), Chair of BMA Council, said: “The absence of expected guidance on how the competition regulations would operate in practice, and the lack of satisfactory guarantees in these regulations, has created great uncertainty and anxiety for clinicians and patients.

“Only explicit wording in the regulations would allow patients, doctors and commissioners to be absolutely certain that clinicians will have the freedom to act in the way they consider to be in the best interests of patients.”

Chair of the BMA’s GP Committee Dr Laurence Buckman said: “GP commissioners now have responsibility for making critical decisions about how best to provide services to patients in their locality.

“Commissioners could be put in the position of facing costly tendering processes and possible legal challenges from unsuccessful bidders because of ambiguous rules. That is why GPs want the regulations withdrawn.”

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