A leading architect of the government’s NHS changes in England has warned they may be undermined by new rules opening the health service to more competition.
Dr Michael Dixon told GPs’ journal Pulse that regulations on tendering out services should be rephrased.
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 doctors have written to the Daily Telegraph claiming the legislation makes “virtually every part” of the NHS open to private firms.
The government insisted there was no policy to privatise NHS services.
Dr Dixon said clinicians would feel the whole process had been “a complete waste of time” unless the rules were changed.
He said he feared GPs “will walk” from the entire clinical commissioning process if this was not done.
The regulations are currently before Parliament, with the reforms taking effect in a month.
New local clinician-led organisations will take over responsibility for much of the health budget.
The rules for buying services set out in the regulations ban unnecessary restrictions on competition and say all providers – NHS or otherwise – should be treated equally.
‘Eye off ball’
Critics have said this is a blueprint for privatisation and goes against government assurances.
Dr Dixon has been a leading champion of the changes, but he is worried that the proposed rules will mean doctors could get bogged down in the procurement process rather than getting on with making services better for patients.
He said the danger with the current wording of the rules “is that it seems to put a duty upon the commissioner to go for competition with all contracts that are made”.
Dr Dixon said: “The aim of clinical commissioning was to innovate to redesign, to try and ensure that we do more outside of hospital and in primary care.
“Now, if that is their aim and they start getting bogged down in matters of issues of whether or not they are being competitive, that is going to take their eye off the ball.”
‘Nail in coffin’
In their letter to the Telegraph, the doctors and health-care workers called on MPs to force a debate and vote down the proposal.
They wrote: “We are concerned about the government’s proposed secondary legislation (under Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act) to force virtually every part of the English NHS to be opened up to the private sector to bid for its contracts.
“These regulations were proposed on 13 February and will become law on 1 April unless MPs first insist on a debate and then vote them down.
“Parliament does not normally debate or vote on this type of regulation, but it is possible. We urge parliamentarians to force a debate and vote on this issue to prevent another nail in the coffin of a publicly provided NHS free from the motive of corporate profit.”
The government said the rules were about ensuring the process was fair to all concerned.
Labour said the regulations should be withdrawn without delay.