Advertisements tendering PCT work to external companies have been hastily withdrawn by the DoH following a barrage of criticism. Health minister Lord Warner said they were withdrawn because of a drafting error which made them unclear and that they would be reissued.
'We want those PCTs who require it to have access to expert help in developing the commissioning role, including from the private and voluntary sectors if necessary,' he added.
The advertisement, which appeared in the Official Journal of the European Union last month, called on private firms to set out how they could run 'a comprehensive range of management services including PCT management and related services'.
In an open letter responding to claims that this was 'privatisation by stealth', health secretary Patricia Hewitt said: 'Contrary to reports in some newspapers, there is no question whatsoever of privatising the NHS,' she said.
'Some PCTs have indicated that, to support them in their task, they would like to consider the possibility of buying in some management and support services, including the detailed data analysis that helps to underpin sound commissioning.'
The BMA stated its opposition to any private provision in the NHS at its Annual Representatives Meeting (ARM) in Belfast last week. BMA council chairman James Johnson reiterated his opposition to the latest move, saying it seemed 'to be a short step to move to clinical services'.
Dr Martin Harris, a GP in West Cumbria, was among speakers at the ARM who warned that if private providers took part in practice-based commissioning it would create a serious conflict of interest.