Warning GPs ‘will walk’ if new rules brought in

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FAMILY doctors will walk away from the Government’s NHS reforms unless ministers change rules opening the health service up to more competition, one of the leading architects of the new system has warned.

GP Michael Dixon, interim president of NHS Clinical Commissioners, said doctors risk getting “bogged down” in the process and may feel it is “a waste of time”.

More than 1,000 doctors and nurses have appealed to MPs to force a vote on the new rules –known as Section 75 regulations – to prevent their implementation at the start of April.

The signatories, who include Clare Gerada, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, and Prof John Ashton, incoming president of the Faculty of Public Health, said the regulations will “force virtually every part of the English NHS to be opened up to the private sector”.

Labour has tabled a motion in the House of Lords designed to kill off the regulations, which would bar “any restrictions on competition that are not necessary”. Critics fear they will make it easier for independent providers to get contract decisions overturned if they feel they should have been open to tender.

Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told MPs that the new regulations would enable clinical commissioners “to go for... whoever is best placed to deliver to their patients the best service, to improve the quality of the service, to meet the needs of people who use the services and to improve efficiency” and would not require competitive tendering in every case.

But Dr Dixon told Pulse magazine: “The danger about the current wording of Section 75 is that it seems to put a duty upon the commissioner to go for competition with all contracts that are made.

“We don’t want to get CCGs (clinical commissioning groups) bogged down in protracted processes. The aim of clinical commissioning was to innovate, to redesign, to try and ensure that we do more outside of hospital and in primary care.

“Unless the commissioner is king, the system is going to fall down. And worse still, the clinicians will walk and feel the whole thing has been a complete waste of time.”

Dr Dixon warned that CCGs may have to defend claims from private companies for not having put service procurement out to tender.

“It is going to make everyone watch their back and a whole industry of people who challenge things back and forth as to whether they have been sufficiently competitive or not, and opens the window to providers to challenge the CCGs,” he said.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: “It’s getting serious for the Government when a leading advocate for their NHS plans believes doctors have been conned.

“What is now clear is that the medical professions and Parliament have been treated with contempt – the Government is now forcing competition through the back door. People have never given them the permission to put the NHS up for the sale and they need to be forced to remember that.”

David Cameron’s official spokesman said the Prime Minister would “consider” the concerns expressed by clinicians, but still believes the new regulations are right.

“The reason we believe the regulations are the right ones is because they are putting commissioners, clinicians, front and centre of the decisions that are taken,” said the spokesman.

mike.waites@ypn.co.uk