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Last attempt to overturn NHS rules

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Opponents of controversial NHS competition regulations are to make a last-ditch attempt to overturn the new rules.

The Section 75 Regulations will be debated in the House of Lords after protests from many health bodies over claims they open up NHS services to market competition.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has said the regulations should be replaced with new rules that “unambiguously reflect government assurances that commissioners will not be forced to use competition when making their commissioning decisions”.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has stressed the regulations have already been reworded and will not open up the whole NHS to privatisation.

But Labour says it will force a Lords vote to annul the rules, amid growing evidence of “accelerating NHS privatisation”.

Labour’s health spokesman in the House of Lords, Lord Philip Hunt, who will lead the debate, will say: “These regulations will create a culture of defensive contracting, where commissioners will go to tender if there is any doubt that a failure to do so will expose them to a possible damages claim.

“They are part of the government’s drive to shift the culture of the NHS from a public service into a public marketplace, and of a piece with a number of other ominous developments which send the NHS along the same path.

“Out there in the NHS, a market is unfolding oblivious to any assurances given by ministers to Parliament, and these regulations are a crucial vehicle for its delivery. That is what makes the regulations so dangerous and so different from the guidance issued in 2010.”

Labour has pointed to figures which show the London Ambulance Service (LAS) has increased spending on private contractors from £400,000 to £4.2 million - a 10-fold increase - in the last two years.

During the same period, the LAS has cut 900 front-line NHS jobs, according to the party.

Last month the government was forced to rewrite the regulations following widespread opposition.

However, the independent Lords Scrutiny Committee has said that the new regulations are “substantially the same” as the originals.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “NHS privatisation is already proceeding at an alarming pace. If passed, these regulations will let the privatisation genie fully out of the bottle.

“David Cameron promised to put doctors in charge and let them decide. He is now mandating the medical profession to carve the NHS open to full competition. The Prime Minister has mis-sold his NHS reforms and the Lords should not let him get away with it.”

More than 60 doctors, health care workers and NHS campaigners have signed an open letter calling for the regulations to be dropped ahead of the Lords debate.

Unison, the UK’s largest union, has called on peers to “show some backbone and vote down pro-privatisation section 75 of NHS regulations”.

Christina McAnea, Unison’s head of health, said: “We know that the private sector is lining up to grab a cash-share of our health service. This is money that will be diverted away from patients and onto the profit books of private health companies.”

Health minister Lord Howe said: “The revised regulations are clear - the position on procurement and competition remains the same as it was under the previous administration.

“It has never been and is absolutely not the government’s intention to make all NHS services subject to competitive tendering.

“The regulations make clear that it is up to doctors and nurses to decide when and where to introduce competition in the best interests of patients.”

 

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