Labour to challenge 'full blown market' in NHS reforms

Labour will step up its challenge to the NHS reforms by claiming the plans introduce a threat of legal action over anti-competitive practice that will 'wreak havoc' with commissioning.

John Healey: Health Bill will expose the NHS to full force of competition law (Photograph: Mark Weeks)
John Healey: Health Bill will expose the NHS to full force of competition law (Photograph: Mark Weeks)

At a committee stage meeting on the reforms on Tuesday, the shadow health team was set to demand the removal of the whole middle third of the Bill, which opens up commissioning to ‘any willing provider’.

This section will grant the regulator Monitor powers to fine commissioning groups up to 10% of their turnover for anti-competitive practice, Labour claims. The powers would be in line with those currently exercised by the Office of Fair Trading.

Speaking at a press briefing before the committee meeting, Shadow health minister John Healey said the Health and Social Care Bill will expose the NHS to full force of competition law.

Any provider or commissioner believed to be acting against competition law could face a legal challenge from spurned private providers that could go all the way to the European courts, he said.

Mr Healey said: ‘At the heart of the new system is that it is not the decision of GPs, it is the competition regulator that will call the shots.’

He said a group of GPs who wanted to collaborate with a hospital on care pathways could be regarded as colluding and may fall foul of competition laws.

Mr Healey said the coalition could achieve its aims of greater clinician involvement, a focus on outcomes and even reorganisation without this section of the Health Bill.

Shadow minister Liz Kendall said: ‘In terms of consequence, GPs will be forced to put contracts out to tender because of competition law, not on patient needs.’

She claimed the costs to GPs and hospitals of hiring dozens of lawyers and accountants to prevent the risk of going to court, and the necessary insurance, would be ‘a huge problem’.

Ms Kendall said this would lead to healthcare becoming more, not less, fragmented.

Labour said at least two thirds of GPs were against the plans.

Stephen Robinson

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