Health secretary Alan Johnson has pledged a commitment to choice, despite pulling the plug on a series of independent sector treatment initiatives.

In a written ministerial statement, Johnson said: “We remain committed to choice, to empower patients and drive improvements in the quality of care. For choice to be truly effective, and for all providers to be able to compete fairly, it is essential that all patients are aware that they can now choose the hospital they are referred to.

“In the run up to the start of free choice, we will raise public awareness of choice through, for example, NHS Choices and other means, as well as encouraging local providers to inform patients about the local choices available to them, and publishing a Code of Promotion to help guide them in this. “ 

On the advice of the Director General of the Department’s Commercial Directorate who has been carrying out a thorough revalidation of all schemes, the government confirmed that six planned schemes are no longer necessary because they could not be shown to demonstrate the required value for money originally envisaged, as the local NHS providers had successfully increased their capacity. 

“The Director General has concluded that the following schemes should not proceed as they were unlikely to provide acceptable value for money as the local NHS has successfully improved capacity to meet patients’ needs,” Johnson said.

So far, wave two has cost £84m partially on legal fees and procurement costs, but some has been spent on schemes that have been given the go-ahead.

This includes the termination of Atos Origin’s £257m contract for diagnostic services in North-west and South-west England.

As well as announcing the scrapping of the projects, Johnson gave the green light to 10 others, which will now join nearly 40 private clinics that are already open.

There are still a series of contracts to sign off from wave two and while there is to be no wave three, local NHS bosses can still ask for private sector centres if they want.

Johnson said: “There has been rapid growth in patients choosing to be referred to the 129 independent sector hospitals currently registered under the Extended Choice scheme. The value of activity has doubled in the last month alone.

“From April 2008, all patients referred for an elective procedure will be able to choose to go to any hospital in England which meets NHS standards and price. This already applies for orthopaedics and from December will cover general surgery, gynaecology and cardiology.”

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA’s consultants committee, said: “It’s a crying shame that so much money has been wasted on this political initiative when the NHS could have achieved better value for money.”

Liberal Democrats health spokesman Norman Lamb added: “This is yet more evidence of government flip-flopping creating confusion in the health service.”


Joe Fernandez