The Department of Health has rejected claims that recently published guidance for commissioners includes a change in policy causing a “potential massive expansion in competition”.

Mike Jackson, a workforce consultant and former Unison national officer, highlighted the requirement in Shared Operating Model for PCT Clusters, published last week, to “ensure that all procurements are advertised on Supply2Health [the NHS tender website]”.

He said it was a “potential massive expansion in competition” as it was a change from existing procurement policy, which says so called “uncontested contract awards”, or “single tender actions” - which are the majority of tenders for health services - do not have to be advertised. The existing policy, publish in July last year, says only that it is “advisable” to list these tenders on Supply2Health. Uncontested contract awards are made where PCTs decide “there is only one capable provider for a particular service or bundle of services”.

Mr Jackson said the new guidance was a “potential massive expansion in competition” and said: “This represents the opening out of all PCT awarded contracts to the market.”

However the a DH spokeswoman said it was not “a change in policy”. The spokeswoman said uncontested contracts should be advertised “to ensure transparency”.

She highlighted guidance which says: “Single tender action carries inherent risk of challenge and a commissioner’s board must be assured of the rationale for its decision… Whilst there is no express requirement to advertise single tender in advance of the contract award [for health and social care services] commissioners should still act transparently and it is good practice to advertise single tender actions.”

Shadow health secretary John Healey said in a statement on the change that it was “further evidence that the government has ignored the core concerns about its NHS plans”.

He said it could “break up care pathways, allow cherry-picking by private providers and expose the health service to the full force of competition law”.

Mr Healey added: “The ability to plan properly, commission confidently and coordinate services effectively will always be under the cloud of a legal challenge.”