DHSC said the pandemic had accelerated the pace of collaboration in the NHS © AFP/Getty Images
DHSC said the pandemic had accelerated the pace of collaboration in the NHS © AFP/Getty Images

Procurement rules to be scrapped under NHS reform

11 February 2021

Current procurement rules for healthcare services will be scrapped under proposed legislation to reform NHS England, a white paper has said. 

In the white paper on integration and innovation in health and social care, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said proposed legislation would “remove much of the transactional bureaucracy that has made sensible decision-making and collaboration in the system harder”. 

The paper said: “We will reform the approach to arranging healthcare services and create a bespoke regime that will give commissioners more discretion over when to use procurement processes to arrange services than at present, with proportionate checks and balances. 

“Where competitive processes can add value they should continue, but that will be a decision that the NHS will be able to make for itself.”

The proposed legislation would “remove the current procurement rules” that apply for NHS and public health commissioners when arranging healthcare services, requiring changes to the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

Instead a “new provider selection regime” would provide a framework for NHS bodies and local authorities to follow to “enable collaboration and collective decision-making, recognising that competition is not the only way of driving service improvement, reduce bureaucracy on commissioners and providers alike, and eliminate the need for competitive tendering where it adds limited or no value”, the white paper added.

It continued: “We anticipate that there will continue to be an important role for voluntary and independent sector providers, but we want to ensure that, where there is no value in running a competitive procurement process, services can be arranged with the most appropriate provider.” 

Proposals within the white paper, which builds on the NHS’s recommendations in its Long Term Plan, focus on “stripping out needless bureaucracy, turning effective innovations and bureaucracy-busting into meaningful improvements for everyone, learning from the innovations during Covid-19”. 

DHSC added subject to parliamentary business, the legislative proposals for health and care reform would begin to be implemented in 2022 and would form a “critical part of the recovery process from the pandemic”.

Matt Hancock, health secretary, told MPs the response to Covid-19 had “accelerated the pace of collaboration across health and social care”, demonstrating an ability to collaborate flexibly.

“Even before the pandemic, it was clear reform was needed to update the law, to improve how the NHS operates and reduce bureaucracy.

“We will use legislation to remove bureaucracy that makes sensible decision-making harder, so freeing up the system to innovate and to embrace technology as a better platform to support staff and patient care.

“We’re setting out a more joined-up approach, built on collaborative relationships, so that more strategic decisions can be taken to shape health and care for decades to come,” he said.

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary, questioned the timing of the proposed reforms “in the middle of the biggest public health crisis our NHS has ever faced”.

“He is ditching the competition framework for the tendering of local services while potentially replacing it with institutionalised cronyism at the top instead,” he said.

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