Debate on private providers in NHS at 'playground level', charity chief warns

The debate about private companies' role in the NHS is not based on facts and has descended to playground level, the head of an organisation representing charities has warned.

Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations said NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson’s comments that the NHS must not be ‘carpet bombed’ with competition were unfortunate.

Sir Stephen, who led the NHS Future Forum's work on choice and competition during the ‘pause’ in the passage of the Health Act, said that the current debate surrounding private providers’ involvement with the NHS had descended to ‘the level of the playground’.

The comments were made at a Westminster Health Forum event on independent and third sector involvement with clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and commissioning support services, in central London today.

He told the forum: ‘Let's get real about choice and competition. The independent sector has less than 5% of the entire health service market. There are not the battalions of private healthcare companies waiting to come in and destroy the NHS. If you look at the evidence on competition, if you look at stuff the Nuffield Trust and the London School of Economics does, you will see that properly managed, regulated competition can increase choice and be more cost effective.

‘When CCGs are thinking about their commissioning roles, not the tendering role, they should be consulting all the organisations out there that know about the range of activities in health and social care and helping them put together how they do their procurement. That can be through competition or through co-operation.’

At the event KPMG associate Tim Rideout revealed that the company is currently working with 50 of the 211 CCGs across England.

On the reforms he said: ‘Sir David Nicholson said that this is a change so big that you can see it from space, and that is still the case. KPMG works with about 50 CCGs currently and about half of CSUs so we have a great opportunity to talk to people on the ground about how the reforms are progressing and the key message that comes from CCGs is that commissioning support is absolutely essential if they are going to succeed. They do not have the capability within the CCGs themselves to commission in an effective way.’

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