The government will amend its controversial competition regulations, minister Norman Lamb has said.
Since the secondary legislation under the Health Act was laid last month, politicians, competition lawyers and health leaders have said it appears to require commissioners to introduce competition more widely than the government has previously indicated.
Ministers came under increasing political pressure and today Mr Lamb told the Commons they would be amended. Changes will be made in coming days, he said.
He said: “We will make it absolutely clear that the power rests with [clinical commissioning groups], not Monitor, not ministers but with CCGs… There is a need for a clarification to be absolutely clear that CCGs will not be forced into tendering.”
A debate and vote on the regulations is due to take place on 11 March.
Separately Labour is planning to force a vote on and attempt to defeat the regulations, with a debate and vote on a “fatal” motion, set for the Lords on 18 March.
Lawyers working in the NHS have told HSJ the regulations could have wide-reaching implications for the mix of providers of NHS-funded services.
The rules banned “any restrictions on competition that are not necessary” and would see Monitor over-rule clinical commissioning groups to tender a service if GPs could not prove a decision not to do so was “in the interests” of patients.
The regulations say contracts can only be awarded without tender for “technical reasons” or “reasons of extreme urgency”.
One health service lawyer told HSJ: “I think this is a real move towards privatisation, towards opening up a market.”
Critics have said they contradict assurances given during the passage of the bill.
However, the government has disputed that their intention - or actual affect -
HSJ has been told the Competition and Cooperation framework, due to be developed jointly by the NHS Commissioning Board and Monitor, will be published in the spring.