The King's Fund response to ministerial statement on ISTCs

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Responding to an announcement by Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson MP that following a revalidation of the independent sector treatment centres (ISTCs) programme, plans for ISTCs in some areas will not proceed, King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:

'Inevitably people will look at today's statement for signs of a larger message about the government’s intentions for the future involvement of the independent sector in the NHS.

'Alan Johnson has made clear in his statement that the government is still committed to competition and contestability where it is appropriate. This second wave of ISTCs was intended to increase capacity and stimulate more efficient provision within the NHS. This announcement shows that the government is responding to the current situation in certain areas of England where the supply of health services has caught up with demand and there is no longer a need to expand capacity further.

'The move towards greater local procurement of services is welcome. Enabling and encouraging local commissioners to contract with a diverse range of providers has greater potential for improving access, efficiency and the quality of patient care. Now the emphasis must be on creating a level playing field so that patients can benefit from the very best services offered by providers from all sectors, especially as we approach the expansion of patient choice in April 2008. If this is to work it is vital that GPs and patients have access to comparable information on the quality of care in both NHS and non-NHS providers. This should help GPs and patients engage in the process of choice, something that the evidence so far shows is not happening sufficiently.

'ISTCs will continue to play a role as part of the NHS family of providers and switching emphasis from national to local procurement will not change that. If independent providers offer value-for-money, high-quality services that meet the needs of local people they should be included in NHS contracts.'

Notes to editors

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The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all.