Firms could use competition rules to force out GPs

Private firms could use competition rules to force PCTs to break up existing GPs' contracts, according to the panel responsible for regulating competition in the NHS.

Theoretically, any provider can appeal to the NHS Cooperation and Competition Panel (CCP) to force a PCT to put GP services out to tender.

Andrew Taylor, director of the CCP told GP: 'The private health provider would have to enter a "procurement dispute" based on the PCT's decision not to tender.

'Their case would be based on the fact that the PCT was not procuring from other companies best placed to provide that service.'

The CCP uses the DoH's 2008 guidance, the 'Procurement Guide for Health Services', to decide whether a PCT is procuring services fairly.

Under the guidelines, the more potential providers there are, the stronger the case for PCTs to tender out services. Bidders would have to demonstrate they were better than the existing provider. Mr Taylor admitted this would be 'a hard task'.

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said PCTs would find it 'impossible' to break up a GMS contract. But PMS and APMS deals may be more vulnerable.

Dr Buckman would not speculate on whether private providers would bid to take over GPs' contracts, but said the competition guidance was creating 'the wrong model for general practice'.

Last week CCP chairman Lord Carter of Coles told GP newspaper that any practice would almost certainly have to be tendered under the DoH procurement guidance (GP, 5 June).

Earlier this month the BMA launched a campaign against the 'marketisation' of NHS services in response to the introduction of competition.

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