Government announces 'humiliating u-turn' on competition regulations in NHS


In an eleventh hour reversal, ministers withdrew controversial regulations governing competition in the NHS in what Labour described as a “humiliating u-turn.”

Four weeks before major reform of the NHS is due to take effect, placing GPs in charge of over half the £100 billion budget, the rules on contracting with the private sector will now be re-written.

The climbdown, announced by Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health minister, was hailed as a victory by campaigners who have opposed increased private involvement in the NHS.

 Fears about privatisation have been at the centre of the dispute over the reforms throughout the passage of the Health and Social Care Act, which became law last year.

Regulations published three weeks ago governing how the Act should be implemented from April 1 were greeted with dismay. They run to just 12 pages but critics said they would open up many more services to competition from private companies and would lead to fragmentation of the service.

A petition against the measures by the lobby group 38 Degrees gathered more than 600,000 signatures and over 1,000 doctors wrote to The Daily Telegraph protesting that they made “virtually every part” of the NHS open to private firms. The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges warned at the weekend that the regulations could cause “dangerous” fragmentation of health services.

Mr Lamb admitted the wording of the regulations had “inadvertently created confusion”.  He said that there would be no privatisation of the NHS and that competition should be a means to improving the NHS not an end in itself.

Mr Lamb told MPs he did not accept claims by the Government's critics of wholesale privatisation but agreed to rewrite key parts of the regulations “to remove any doubt.”

The changes would include assurances that the new GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups, responsible for buying services for patients, would decide when and how competition should be sought, would not have to put all their services  out to tender and could not be forced to do so by the NHS regulator, Monitor. 

Mr Lamb added that the new rules  should go no further than those inherited under Labour, which first opened up the NHS to competition during Tony Blair's 13 years in power.

Mr Lamb said: “The regulations must be fully in line with the assurances given to this house during the passage of the health and social care act,” he said.

But he did not explain how the flawed regulations came to be issued, stirring up a hornet's nest of protest, when feelings were still running high over the controversial Health and Social Care Act.

Liberal  Democrats are angry that Nick Clegg was not consulted before the regulations were tabled by the Department of Health. Normally, such a measure would be circulated to the Cabinet's Home Affairs Committee, which Mr Clegg chairs. But senior Lib Dems believe this was “a cock-up, not a conspiracy.”

Andy Burnham, Labour's shadow health secretary,  said that four weeks before GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups  were due to take charge of the NHS budget on April 1,  coalition policy on competition was “in chaos”.

“David Cameron has been caught out trying to force competition and privatisation through the back door. We welcome this climb-down but these regulations should never have been tabled,” he said.

But Stephen Dorrell, the Conservative chairman of the Commons health select committee, which has been critical of the bill in the past, said that the government's clarification “demonstrates that the cloud of rhetoric that surrounded the passage of the health and social care act was so much hot air”.

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind'

Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Project Manager

    Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    IT Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album