In less than four weeks’ time, new GP commissioners take control, yet today there is complete confusion about the job they are being asked to do. Following comments by the deputy medical director of the NHS Commissioning Board and the statement we have just heard, coalition policy on competition in the NHS is in utter chaos. It beggars belief that almost three years after the White Paper introduced by Mr Lansley and after all the upheaval he inflicted on the NHS, there is still no clarity on policy today. They are in this mess because the “doctors will decide” mantra was always a fig leaf for their true ideological purpose of driving competition and privatisation into the heart of the NHS.
“I know many of you may have read that you will be forced to fragment services, or to put services out to tender. This is absolutely not the case.”
I am tempted to ask: if the aim is to revert to the position we held, why on earth bring forward a 300 page Bill to rewrite the entire legal basis of the national health service? The truth is that they have been found out trying to sneak through the back door privatisation proposals that the Minister’s predecessors were forced to rule out to save their discredited Bill. In that light, does the Minister accept that it will not be good enough to bring these proposals back with a few cosmetic changes? Will he give a categorical assurance that there will now be a fundamental rewrite to reflect to the letter commitments given to the House and to the professions?
More broadly, we now need urgent clarification, in a full and detailed statement, of what Government policy on competition actually is. Will the Minister today send the clearest message to clinicians that they will control whether or not to use competitive tenders, and will he fulfil the pledge by his leader to protect the NHS from the full glare of EU competition law? If the Government still want to argue for more private providers in the NHS, is he confident that this will not restrict whistleblowing as it has in other outsourced public services?
Will they also respond today to the research of the Nuffield Trust, which shows that more competition in the NHS has resulted in falling productivity? A quarter of a million people who signed the 38 Degrees petition have forced the Government into yet another humiliating U-turn, but there will be lingering distrust at the fact that they had the audacity even to attempt this. The simple truth is this: the British public have never given them permission to put the NHS up for sale. Until they acknowledge that, we will never tire of reminding them.