The Department of Health is trying to silence the cooperation and competition panel, to stop health secretary Andy Burnham’s “preferred provider” policy being exposed as illegal.

Its decision this week to force primary care trusts in the East of England to suspend all procurement for community services halted the high profile cooperation and competition panel investigation that was likely to question the government’s decision to make the NHS a “preferred provider” of services, ahead of the independent sector.

There is now a pattern of the DH undermining the competition panel.

In December the panel concluded that a decision made by NHS Kingston not to allow a GP practice to open a new branch surgery was inconsistent with principles and rules for cooperation and competition. Two months later the DH is still stalling, saying: “It is not simply a case of accepting the cooperation and competition panel recommendations without the DH first considering the impact on the broader policy and regulatory framework and the wider NHS.”

A month ago the DH dismissed as “anecdote” a report from the panel warning a “significant number” of NHS commissioners were at risk of legal challenge because they were not following procurement rules.

In the report, the panel said common breaches were excluding potential bidders for illegitimate reasons, being unclear about the selection criteria for awarding contracts and failing to award contracts to the best bidders.

The panel’s respected chair, Lord Carter of Coles, needs to decide whether there is any point continuing in the face of such naked political interference.