Thursday 25 March 2010


A great result! Ring the bells! Put out the flags! ACEVO has achieved a neutering of Burnham's "preferred provider" policy. Guidance for commissioners published today makes clear that competition has won the day over discrimination against third sector providers.

Now we can welcome the fact that the Government have listened to third sector concerns on Department of Health procurement policy.

So we have welcomed the guidance documents published today by the Department of Health, which make clear that commissioners should not favour or discriminate against providers from any one sector, thereby effectively neutering Andy Burnham's "preferred provider" policy.

The guidance is the final nail in the coffin for the 'preferred provider' policy, which has been well and truly neutered.

The Department of Health has today explicitly told NHS commissioners that they must not prefer providers from any one sector, and should instead be non-discriminatory and seek to remove barriers to third sector participation.

The fact is that the third sector has a huge amount to offer NHS patients, and we want to work in partnership with the NHS to deliver better services. Now we can get back to working with the NHS to do just that.

It may also rescue the "right to request" policy which allowed groups of NHS staff to become social enterprises free from the bureaucracy of the health service.

The Department has published three pieces of guidance today: the revised Principles and Rules for Cooperation and Competition, the revised PCT Procurement Guide, and Commercial Skills for the NHS. I wouldn't recommend a read unless you are very short of books but the key point we can all note is that effective lobbying can defeat even a mighty power like a Secretary of State.

I have also received a really strong reassurance from the Prime minister replying to my letter on preferred provider.

He says "I would like to reassure you ...we are committed to supporting a growing role for the voluntary and private sectors in the provision of health and social care .....voluntary and third sector providers in particluar have a huge amount to offer the NHS through new and innovative ways of working."

I had also written to the PM about DH's decision to scupper our complaint against Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT which we put to their competition panel. Interestingly he relpied ,

"I was interested in your suggestion of more formal independence for the DH compettion and cooperation panel and we will consider this further.... We keep under active consideration areas of NHS governnence that might benefit from more formal independence".

I shall be telling members to vigorously pursue their PCTs to ensure the policy is carried out. Any hint of unfair competition; like we saw with the PCT in Great Yarmouth and we will be all over it like a rash!

It's been a classic and powerful example of lobbying and advocacy. A deft and skillful mixture of threats and bluster, use of the media and behind the scenes and secret discussions. It has been ACEVO at its best. There are few organisations in or outside the sector that could have pulled this off. And a particular tribute to the skilled duo of the 2 musketeers Kyle and Michell.

As Francis Maude MP said to us : "feel compelled to hold our feet to the fire". We do that to governments that try to diss our sector.

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