A few years ago, as the country's first ever third sector minister, Ed Miliband published an action plan to increase the role of charities and social enterprises in delivering public services. The report identified health and social care as one of five priority areas where the sector had the greatest potential to contribute, and talked about the then Labour government's aim to ‘embed the highest quality procurement practice and reduce barriers to entry for the third sector’.
The current Government have made similar statements. And Monitor are about to produce a report on steps to ensure a fair playing field in commissioning.
I believe that the case for this kind of action is compelling. The NHS is a cherished national institution, but faces huge challenges; needs to find new ways of doing things, and the third sector could help provide these new ways of doing things. And I believe the case for change remains compelling today, in the wake of the Francis Mid Staffordshire inquiry, not to mention the huge financial challenges to come.
The NHS needs to change. It needs new ways of doing things. The third sector has a lot to contribute, and we should be capitalising on that potential not seeking to keep it at bay. And yet there are currently moves afoot in Parliament to do precisely that, by amending the regulations on NHS procurement. Politicians arguing they don't want competition because they have an ideological objection to the private sector need to understand this. If you halt competition it keeps out the innovation charities could bring to the table just as much as it does the private sector. It puts the interests of the incumbent producers above those of patients. And it denies people choice.
There are currently regulations on NHS procurement before Parliament. Those regulations essentially say that commissioners should get the best provider to deliver a service, not simply renew their contracts with whoever is doing it now. And that when they do so, they should act in a fair, transparent way. They require commissioners to base their decisions on what benefits taxpayers and patients, and they explicitly promote integration of services. I hope Parliament will pass them. It’s important to us.