by Ray Fleming

On 1 April far-reaching changes in the running of Britain's National Health Service are due to be introduced under provisions of the Health and Social Care Act which was passed after two full years of often acrimonious debate between the then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and the medical professions and opposition in the House of Commons. At the heart of that debate was anxiety about the extent of the use of private medical companies, especially by the newly created GP commissioning groups. David Cameron personally gave assurances that privatisation of the NHS was not the government's objective.

Given that background it beggars belief that in the Commons yesterday the Health Minister Norman Lamb agreed under pressure to withdraw and rewrite some of the regulations on private service commissioning because they were confusing and according to one medical source “virtually made every part of the NHS open to private firms”. Mr Lamb said it was a “cock-up” not a conspiracy but some critics believe that in a 300 page Bill an attempt may have been made to smuggle-in procedures helpful to the private sector's ambitions.

The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges said the provisions would lead to a “dangerous fragmentation of the health services” and the Daily Telegraph reported that it had received letters from more then one thousand doctors complaining about the confusing wording of the regulations.