Published: 16/12/2004, Volume II4, No. 5936 Page 8

It remains unclear whether NHS treatment centres will be allowed to compete in the next wave of the independent procurement programme still to be announced by the government.

Health secretary John Reid and director of delivery John Bacon did little to dispel confusion last week.

When asked directly by committee member and independent MP for Wyre Forest Dr Richard Taylor whether NHS treatment centres would be allowed to bid to take part in the next wave, Mr Reid replied 'yes they are'.

Dr Taylor attempted to confirm Mr Reid's statement by asking whether this meant that the DoH would be 'giving NHS treatment centres the chance to tender' for the next wave.

Mr Bacon replied to the question.

But he would only say that competition was needed between NHS treatment centres and independent treatment centres as part of the choice agenda; not that NHS treatment centres would be able to apply to join in the ITC scheme itself.

He told MPs: 'Next year when we offer choice, NHS treatment centres will be able to compete with ITCs, ' said Mr Bacon.

'We need to establish capacity for a range of choice, ' he added.

The private sector is eagerly awaiting a government tendering announcement for the next wave of the independent sector programme, expected to offer at least double the 250,000 patient operations already distributed to the private sector.

However, the announcement, expected early in the new year, is being delayed by a decision on whether both NHS treatment centres and foundation trusts will be allowed to bid directly for the work.

Health ministers are understood to be debating whether either would be able to bid for the work as individual organisations, or whether they would only be allowed to bid for the work by forming joint ventures with the private sector.