Department of Health ignores competition complaint

30 November 2010

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The Department of Health (DH) has refused to refer a grievance about a lack of NHS tendering to a competition watchdog. 

The NHS Partners Network, which represents independent healthcare providers, lodged a formal complaint with the department about its plans to award nearly £10 billion of deals to other parts of the health service or social enterprises without going to tender.

The Labour government pledged to give the private sector a chance to bid to take over community hospitals, district nursing and GP therapy services run by Primary Care Trusts (PCTs). The coalition government, however, said only four per cent of these services will be put out to tender. 

Some 10 per cent of the work, which equates to £900 million of services, is being given to staff to operate as social enterprises, without any formal competition. The remaining 86 per cent will go to other parts of the NHS.

The NHS Partners Network has asked for the issue to be referred to the Co-operation & Competition Panel, which has investigative powers when asked by the health department to examine an issue.

Ian Dalton, the DH’s managing director of provider development, said: “Our focus is on separating commissioner and provider functions in the NHS, and extending patient choice of any willing provider into community services by autumn 2011. We have no current plans to refer any complaints to the panel.”

By April 2011, PCT services will be separated from their commissioning arms. 

David Worskett, director of the NHS Partners Network, said its members “have been concerned for some months that the Transforming Community Services programme was turning into a ‘rush for cover’ rather than bringing market principles and best procurement practices”.

He added: “The Department of Health chart detailing how PCT provider arms will be established from April 2011 shows that our members’ concerns are thoroughly justified. Where is the evidence that this process – with only four per cent of provider arms available for private and voluntary sector organisations to tender for – can deliver best value at a time when it is completely vital for the NHS to do so?”

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