A set of rules set up under the controversial health reforms could “open up all NHS services to competitive tendering”, the Royal College of Midwives has warned.
The RCM said that the new regulations “completely contradict” assurances by ministers that the Health and Social Care Act would not lead to compulsory competitive tendering for NHS services.
But ministers said the rules were “consistent” with the commitments given by the government during the passage of the Act and would offer a “fair” tendering process.
The NHS (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) Regulations 2013 were created under the Act - which is to become law on 1 April. The rules ban “any restrictions on competition that are not necessary”.
The RCM said any discretion open to local health service commissioners over what services are open to competition “appears to have disappeared” from the regulations.
Jon Skewes, director for policy, employment relations and communications at the RCM, said: “I am deeply disappointed with the government because they seem to have promised one thing and delivered the opposite.
“We were repeatedly assured by ministers that compulsory competitive tendering would not be imposed on organisations commissioning maternity services. The regulations as they stand will mean that this is exactly what will happen.
“I call upon peers and MPs to look at these regulations very carefully. Continuity of care is vital in maternity services if we are to have safe and high quality care.
“I fear that the fragmented service that these regulations could lead to will mean poorer care for women, babies and their families.”
Health minister Lord Howe said: “There is no government policy to privatise all NHS services.
“These regulations are about ensuring that when services are tendered for, whether from NHS, voluntary sector or independent providers, the rules that are applied to the process are fair to all concerned.
“They are consistent in all respects with the commitments given by ministers during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.
“It is absolutely right to enable a commissioner to seek better alternatives to ensure the highest quality services possible are delivered to patients. This is why we have always said that competition in the NHS should never be pursued as an end in itself, but only where this is in the interests of patients.
“This principle underpins the right of patients to exercise choice when accessing treatments under the NHS, a right enshrined in the NHS Constitution.”