Health minister Ben Bradshaw has told HSJ he is 'puzzled' by suggestions that Labour is reneging on use of the private sector.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr Bradshaw said: 'I have read some of this speculation that the government is going cold on reform with some puzzlement. As far as I'm concerned there's no change in the fundamental position, which is we want to put the patient at the centre of healthcare.'

He said he did not 'detect an ideological shift' but said the new ministerial team had 'taken a step back for a moment to catch our breath and see what's going on'.

He said: 'We want to make sure [independent sector] schemes that come forward are providing value for money and [being used] where capacity is needed.

'That doesn't mean to say we've abandoned the idea and benefits of contestability.'

However, it was vital that commissioning improved, he said. 'Our main priority at the moment is to give PCTs the capacity and skills to commission better. We also need to push forward on practice-based commissioning.'

Only when commissioning improved could the prime minister's 'vision of a patient-centred health service with local decision-making' become a reality, he said.

As long as PCTs show transparency, accountability and modernised regulation, then there was no need to separate provision and commissioning, he explained.