The Department of Health will be “heavily reliant” on locally set prices to encourage competition from “any qualified provider” in community services, it said this week.

AQP will not be introduced to community services until April 2012 and, in order to prevent price competition, will be restricted to services with national or locally set “tariff” prices, the department said.

Experts say tariffs will be challenging to develop.

Audit Commission managing director of health Andy McKeon said: “The data on community services, in terms of what they cost and what you actually want to pay for, is weak.”

A DH spokesman told HSJ: “Inevitably, given the diversity of community services and the scale of the challenge in developing comprehensive national tariffs, we will be heavily reliant on local price setting (within national guidance and rules) for the initial implementation of choice of any qualified provider.”

The speed with which the DH could set national community service tariffs would depend on priorities for tariff development set by the NHS Commissioning Board, he added.

Sir David Nicholson, NHS chief executive and Commissioning Board chief executive designate, told HSJ the community services first in line for AQP would be announced soon.