Government climbdown on NHS competition regulations
A flurry of activity by unions, health specialists, politicians and campaigners has borne fruit today, with the announcement that the Government will re-write the NHS competition regulations that have caused such a furore. But vigilance will be needed to make sure the government can’t get away with a watered-down version of the same thing.
As I wrote last week, the regulations would have had the effect of forcing NHS services into compulsory competitive markets. They undermined assurances given by ministers during the debates on the Health Act, and could have come into law without so much as a debate or a vote had they followed the usual process set out by the government.
When the TUC asked people to write in about the regulations last week, so we could share concerns with a key Lords scrutiny committee, thousands of people responded in just a few hours. Thousands have also lobbied MPs in what was one of the biggest responses we’ve seen to an online action.
We have also seen a thousand doctors write to publicly express their opposition to the changes and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges speak out against them. In Parliament, over a hundred MPs have signed a motion against the regulations and a motion had been laid in the Lords to force a debate.
But today the government moved, when health minister Norman Lamb announced (in response to a question from Andy Burnham) that the regulations would be rewritten. In a nod to the accusation that the regulations broke promises made by ministers, he said that the regs “must be fully in line with the assurances given” to Parliament during the passage of the Act and that changes would be made to clarify the role of the regulator, Monitor.
The move is an important milestone and shows that the outcry from the health sector and the public has unsettled the government.
But there’s a familiar ring to this development that shows why we mustn’t drop the pressure. Two years ago the government ‘paused’ the Health and Social Care Bill after opposition from health professionals, patients and communities. The ‘listening exercise’ that followed led to minor tweaks to the legislation and a decline in media interest, and the Act that was ultimately pushed through was barely improved.
So although we should be pleased at the progress made today, we should also be vigilant. If you’d like to be kept up to date with campaign actions please sign up to the TUC’s ‘going to work’ campaign here.