Health secretary Andy Burnham has insisted to HSJ that his rewriting of the competition rules will accelerate, not slow, the pace of NHS reform.

His remarks come as Paul Corrigan, who as Tony Blair’s health adviser was one of the architects of competition in the NHS, calls on commissioners in an article in this week’s issue to ignore the secretary of state’s advice.

Commissioners should decide to continue with this duty rather than follow the secretary of state

Paul Corrigan

We will need to find more engaging, less polarising ways of making change happen

Andy Burnham

Mr Corrigan claims that rewriting the rules contradicts the world class commissioning framework, compels the recently formed co-operation and competition panel to be anti-competitive, interferes with local decision making, undermines the drive for better value for money and reneges on a central commitment in Labour’s 2005 election manifesto.

The row has erupted after Mr Burnham used a recent speech to the King’s Fund to ditch the policy of commissioning services from “any willing provider” in favour of making the NHS the preferred provider and giving poor services ample opportunity to improve before they risk losing the work.

Mr Burnham’s policy has been criticised by former health secretary Alan Milburn.

In an article for this week’s HSJ, Mr Burnham says that delivering further service improvements means “winning the hearts and minds of public and staff that it is change they can believe in. It means change being led by staff rather than imposed from above. It is for precisely this reason that we will need to find more engaging, less polarising ways of making change happen in the NHS than we have managed in the past”.

He adds: “In essence, ‘preferred provider’ status amounts to a chance to improve to the new quality standards that will be required. Where existing NHS services are delivering a good standard of care for patients, there is no need to look to the market.”

He wants any use of competition to focus on the worst services. By contrast, Professor Corrigan insists commissioners’ sole objective should be “improving the health and healthcare of their population”.

“Commissioners should decide to continue with this duty rather than follow the secretary of state,” he argues.

Andy Burnham stands ground after taking fire on competition rules