The government has spent the past nine months working with PCTs to increase competition in primary care, GP can reveal.
The DoH has developed Healthcare Market Analysis (HMA) to help primary care trusts achieve World Class Commissioning status. It is intended to help PCTs plan for the future and identify gaps in provision.
But it also helps trusts to 'stimulate the market', by helping them attract new providers that might increase competition and offer better value for money.
GP understands that the government has been working with PCTs and SHAs to apply the tool for more than nine months now.
David Stout, director of the NHS Confederation's PCT Network, said that the tool could theoretically be used to stimulate competition in any part of the health service, including general practice.
'In a sense, the GP-led healthcare programme is an example of this kind of process. That was trying to encourage a degree of competition in every part of the country,' he said.
Mr Stout said HMA was also of use to help PCTs determine whether there were enough providers in the market to make competitive tendering work.
If not, the logical next step would be to 'start a dialogue' with providers from nearby areas or providers that offered similar services, to see if they would be interested in bidding for a potential contract.
Trusts can even offer to 'construct the tender to allow a bedding in period', for example by offering initial income guarantees, in order to persuade new providers to take the risk of offering a new service.
But these would have to be made available to all providers, so as not to bias the process.
GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman criticised the move as 'a strange thing to do' in a time of straitened finances.
'Part of the NHS is devoting itself to competing with other parts of the NHS. That is an absolute negation of the idea of a state operated health service,' he said. 'All it will do is remove money from patient care.'
Mr Stout stressed that many services would never be put out to competitive tender anyway. 'There's no obligation to tender everything,' he said.
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