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NHS tendering rules to be amended
The Government will amend controversial regulations governing tendering for NHS services following widespread concerns about the role of competition, MPs have been told.
Liberal Democrat Health Minister Norman Lamb made the announcement just days before his party's spring conference, which could have seen a showdown between activists and the leadership over the proposals.
Summoned to the Commons to answer an urgent question, Mr Lamb said the regulations had "inadvertently created confusion and generated significant concerns".
He told MPs: "I have therefore listened to people's concerns and my department is acting quickly to improve the drafting so that there can be no doubt that the regulations go no further than the previous set of principles and rules inherited from the previous Labour government."
Mr Lamb was forced to make his Commons statement in response to a question from shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, who said the policy was now in "chaos". The regulations follow on from the Health and Social Care Act, which was passed after lengthy battles between the Conservative and Lib Dem wings of the coalition.
Mr Lamb said the regulations governing commissioning in England "must be fully in line with the assurances given" to Parliament during the passage of the Act. Under the principles of the legislation, commissioners should decide when and how competition should be used rather than regulators or ministers.
Mr Lamb said concerns had been raised that commissioners would need to tender for all services under the regulations. "This is not our intention and we will amend the regulations to remove any doubt that this is the case and to clarify that the position remains the same as at present," he said.
There were also fears that regulator Monitor would use the new rules to force commissioners to competitively tender.
"I recognise that the wording of the regulations has caused uncertainty and I will therefore amend them to put this beyond doubt," Mr Lamb said. The minister also insisted that competition "can only be a means to improving services to patients, not an end in itself".
Mr Burnham said: "In less than four weeks' time new GP commissioners take control and yet today there is complete confusion about the job they are being asked to do." He added: "Coalition policy on competition in the NHS is in utter chaos."