NHS debate 'losing contact with reality'

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Image caption The NHS changes affect only England

The debate about the NHS changes in England has "lost contact with reality", a leading Tory MP says.

Ex-health secretary Stephen Dorrell also warned that the "nonsensical" row about competition could lead to concessions that harm patients.

He told the BBC competition was already a key part of the NHS - and was being used to improve services.

Mr Dorrell was speaking out after Nick Clegg suggested he would oppose the promotion of competition in the NHS.

The deputy prime minister has increasingly been taking a tougher stance on NHS reforms, which were put on hold in April amid mounting criticisms among health staff and experts.

He told Lib Dems on Tuesday night that he did not want to see the NHS treated like it was the "electricity or telephone" industries.

Unions have also taken a highly critical stance, warning that the plans could lead to privatisation of the NHS.


Much of the concern has been directed at the proposal to give the regulator, Monitor, a duty to promote competition.

But Mr Dorrell, now the chairman of the House of Commons Health Committee but a health secretary under John Major, said: "The idea there is no competition in the NHS is just bonkers. There are few more competitive groups of people than good doctors. They compete and that improves the care of patients."

He also pointed out that competition with the private sector was being seen in other areas of the NHS from hospital care to mental health.

"The private sector has a role to play. That is a non-argument. I think this whole debate has lost contact with any reality."

He said he did not feel strongly about the duty being given to Monitor, suggesting it would make little difference.

"When I was health minister I did not know what the statutory duties were... they just got on with delivering health services."

But he warned the nature of the debate could lead to damaging concessions being made that could harm competition and, ultimately, patients.

"I think there is a significant danger that political understandings are given that have consequences."

The warning was echoed by the NHS Partners Network, which represents health firms already involved in providing NHS care.

David Worskett, director of the network, said: "There is now a danger that if the NHS turns its back on competition, it may be depriving itself of one of the levers it needs to help it adapt and respond to the huge demographic and financial challenges it faces in the next 20 years, whilst maintaining and improving patient care."

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