DOCTORS and nurses’ leaders are calling on the government to amend controversial NHS regulations to make it absolutely clear that patient care will have priority over competition.
They warned that there are increasing concerns from doctors and nurses that enforced competition and privatisation are just days away.
Dr Mark Porter, chair of BMA Council, said: ‘Although the revised regulations improved the original wording, we stressed the need for this to be supported by clear guidance to provide the assurance and clarity that is needed to ensure that competition does not undermine integration, innovation, or clinical autonomy.
‘With major NHS changes coming into force on 1st April, that guidance has still not been published. This has created great uncertainty and anxiety for clinicians and patients, and left commissioners in a potentially vulnerable state. We have not received satisfactory assurances from the government that would alleviate the considerable fear that commissioners are facing.
‘Until we see how the regulations work in practice we cannot be sure that commissioners will have the freedom to act in the best interests of patients. The stakes are too high to take such risks in what is untested territory.
‘We urge the government to give immediate and absolute assurances about the limits of competition, changing the wording of the regulations if this is what it takes, to ensure that its prior commitments match the reality on the ground. Commissioners need to be completely clear about the rules governing commissioning and to know that they will be allowed to make the best decisions for their patients.’
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: ‘We remain concerned that, despite government assurances, commissioners may not be able to put the quality of patient care and integration above the need to provide competition without facing potentially costly challenges.
‘Without government assurances being reflected in the regulations, we are concerned that clinicians will not be able to focus on these priorities and commission the services that their patients need.’
The BMA and RCN are asking the Government for a firm commitment that commissioners could prioritise patient services over competition and choice, thereby avoiding fragmentation.
BMA member Anna Athow commented: ‘The joint statement by the BMA and the RCN is welcome.
‘The unions ask for clarification of the wording for the commissioners on tendering and competition, to avoid confusion.
‘However, there is no confusion of purpose as far as this government is concerned. From the outset, it launched its Health Bill to impose a market system on the NHS, with private providers using EU competition law to win NHS contracts and make a profit.
‘Despite re-writing and amending the regulations, there will be no backing down by this government on these central issues.
‘The rubicon is being crossed on the statute book.
‘The only way to stop this imposition of the market and privatisation of provision, is to take action.
‘The BMA and the RCN must get together with other health unions and the TUC in joint industrial action to remove this government.
‘Before the NHS is totally destroyed the strength of the unions must be mobilised and used to keep our NHS services intact and in public hands.’