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Andy Burnham’s preferred bidder pledge questioned

Questions have been raised over the implications for competition and world class commissioning of health secretary Andy Burnham’s statement that the NHS is the “preferred provider” of services.

Previous Department of Health policy had been that “any willing provider” should be considered when commissioning services.

The NHS is our preferred provider. But it is the important job of the commissioner to test whether these services provide best value and real quality

Andy Burnham

But in a speech last week at the King’s Fund, in which Mr Burnham stressed the importance of raising quality, he said: “The NHS is our preferred provider. But it is the important job of the commissioner to test whether these services provide best value and real quality.

“Where a provider is not delivering quality - and the new accountability information will more readily demonstrate that - we will set out a clearer process that will provide an opportunity for existing providers to improve before opening up to new potential providers.”

Answering questions after his speech, he said NHS providers should be given at least one opportunity to improve before commissioners went out to tender for an alternative provider.

Unison senior national officer for health Mike Jackson told HSJ the speech was significant: “I think now there’s clarity that the NHS is the preferred provider and there ought to be co-operation before competition.”

But Primary Care Trust Network director David Stout said the speech “would potentially cross over quite a number of the co-operation and competition panel principles”.

A DH spokeswoman said: “The health secretary signalled the need to clarify policy and guidance to ensure that whilst putting quality of the heart of everything we do in the NHS, staff were treated fairly by being given an opportunity to improve performance and services before commissioners considered engaging with alternative providers.”

Readers' comments (3)

  • I despair - If ever there was an argument for feather bedding then this is it - Or is Mr Burnham keeping unions onside prior to the election?

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  • The Electoral politics is clear - Labour are trying to make public vs private a fault line as there are no real difference in policy with the conservatives and Labour has lost its poll lead on health.

    A clumsy and ill considered strategy though. Is the NHS the preferred provider for GP, Optometry, Dental or Pharmacy care where these are almost exclusively 'private sector'. How about complex placements? What about the recently let third sector contracts for Psychological therapy?

    There is nothing world class about a centrally written policy based on 'accountabililty information' which is of necessity crude and high level as it is not tailored to services.

    And how long before this new policy fails the EU competition and procurement law test?

    Come on Mr Burnham. Must try harder.

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  • This is a natural progression towards what is happening globally in industry where the mantra is that to be competitive companies have to cooperate with each other. Relationship marketing is fundemental to how we move forward in the economic downturn and with QIPP. We cannot do this alone.

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