One of the leaders of the NHS reform “listening exercise”, Sir Stephen Bubb, has accused politicians of “grandstanding” and “playing on misconceptions” about competition.
Sir Stephen is chairing a review group looking at the controversial issues of competition and choice as part of the NHS Future Forum exercise, which began after the government announced it would “pause” work on its Health Bill.
The review group is expected to publish recommendations in the next few weeks. But prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg have made high profile speeches on NHS reform in the past two weeks, both touching on competition.
It has prompted speculation there has been political agreement on changes to the bill before the review has finished.
Sir Stephen said of the discussion on competition: “There’s more heat than light in this debate and politicians are really not helping [get] a more mature reflection on the issue. There is an element of playing on some of the misconceptions which I think is very unhelpful.
“It would be nice if… the politicians would pause themselves. There is an element of grandstanding going on.”
But he said the review group remained independent.
He said: “I am going to produce a report I think is going to take the issue forward sensibly. I won’t be stopped from reporting what I want to by politicians.”
Mr Clegg’s speech last week hinted there would be changes to Monitor’s currently proposed new duties, which include “to protect and promote the interests of people who use healthcare services… by promoting competition where appropriate, and through regulation where necessary”.
Mr Clegg said: “Monitor’s main duties will be to promote the needs of patients using collaboration and competition as a means to that end.”
Sir Stephen declined to say whether the review group agreed with such a change, but said it was looking at Monitor’s role.