Competition between the NHS and independent sector providers has "played an important role in driving up quality and responsiveness of healthcare services and increasing value for money", health minister Ben Bradshaw claimed last week.
Speaking at the CBI conference "NHS: Healthier at 65?", Mr Bradshaw (pictured) said: "Since 1997, record levels of investment alongside reform have led to a transformation in the NHS. Waiting lists have been slashed, the quality of care has improved and the NHS is more responsive to patients' needs."
The minister made the comments as he announced the first chair of the new Cooperation and Competition Panel, which has been set up to ensure that competition between the NHS and independent providers for NHS-funded services is fair and transparent.
Mr Bradshaw confirmed that Lord Carter of Coles will take up the post of Chair and Director of this panel from October, which will advise strategic health authorities, the Department of Health (DH) and the independent regulator Monitor on resolving disputes relating to competition for NHS-funded services.
The new panel will have the specific responsibility for considering complaints about issues associated with the procurement of clinical services, advertising and promotion, and the merger or acquisition of healthcare providers where an NHS body is involved.
It will only consider disputes where these have not been able to be resolved locally.
Mr Bradshaw said: "We have designed a system for the NHS where competition works, through patients exercising their choice of provider and through open and fair competition to provide services.
"The Cooperation and Competition Panel will ensure that providers operate on a level playing field, safeguarding the interests of patients and taxpayers."
Commenting on his appointment, Lord Carter of Coles said: "I am very much looking forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure that the work of the panel is transparent and effective in contributing to the ongoing reform agenda of the NHS."
Geoff Benn, vice-chairman of the NHS Partners Network, representing major independent sector providers, said: "We are pleased that the DH has now appointed Lord Carter of Coles as Chair of the new Cooperation and Competition Panel, and look forward to working closely with him.
"We particularly welcome the fact that he has substantial commercial experience in the sector. The panel has a vital role in helping to shape the NHS provider market, ensuring that there is a fair and level playing field and that competition plays a full and constructive part in securing the highest quality NHS patient care."
Has competition driven up standards in the NHS? Do you think it will? Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)
"I would agree. Without it despite what is said to the contrary standards would not have improved both in the primary and secondary sector. I would like to see more but for those in the profession to take on this challenge and compete against the so-called major corporations." - V Henry, London
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