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Lansley: NHS must embrace competition

UK Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has said the NHS needs to embrace value-based competition as part of the government’s reform plans

Andrew Lansley, Health Secretary for the UK's Department of Health (DH) has said the NHS needs to embrace value-based competition as part of the government's reform plans.

Speaking at the 'Maximising Quality, Minimising Cost' conference, hosted by Monitor, the independent regulator of NHS foundation trusts, Lansley said that the recently announced Health and Social Care Bill, which hands commissioning power to GPs and opens up the NHS to EU competition law, will see quality, not price, dictate choice of healthcare in England.

"Our plans to modernise the NHS will finally bring the power of competition to healthcare. Not a free-for-all race to the bottom, but a race for quality, for excellence and for efficiency.

"We will change the default in the health service decision-making, so that it is GPs – the people who see patients every day – and their clinical colleagues across the NHS, social care and local government, who decide what and how services are provides. This is about giving patients and commissioners real choice for the first time."

The DH also said that Monitor will ensure effective competition and a 'level playing field' in the way the NHS is run.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent health and social care regulator for England, would also ensure 'essential standards' in both quality and safety of care were not at risk.

Despite Lansley's reassurances however, the prospect of bringing a competition element into the the NHS has come under heavy criticism from major medical and care organisations.

In his response to the Health and Social Care Bill, Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the British Medical Association (BMA) said: "Forcing commissioners of care to tender contracts to any willing provider, including NHS providers, voluntary sector organisations and commercial companies, could destabilise local health economies and fragment care for patients.

"Adding price competition into the mix could also allow large commercial companies to enter the NHS market and chase the most profitable contracts, using their size to undercut on price, which could ultimately damage local services."

And in a letter of protest to The Times published today (January 24), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said: "The proposed reforms will make matters much, much worse. Not least, they will force 'any willing provider' of health services — private, social enterprise or NHS — to compete with each other on cost and so standards of care are bound to fall."

"We are deeply concerned that, in such a market-driven system, healthcare decisions will be made on the basis of price rather than clinical need, with serious implications for standards of nursing care."

The DH has further information on the Health and Social Care Bill.

24th January 2011

From: Healthcare

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