The King's Fund working group of NHS managers, businessmen and voluntary sector officials has asked the government to clarify if it was trying to turn the NHS into a market. The group also asked ministers not to deny reforms in the private sector.
But Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt dismissed suggestions that the NHS was becoming a market, 'It would be a pretty odd kind of market where the user cannot pay and the providers cannot compete on price,' she said in a key speech to the London School of Economics in December.
The working group however insisted on the need for greater clarity into the future. 'A supply-side market is being created in healthcare out of a powerful mix of tariffs, incentives and new providers. This offers tremendous opportunities but it also carries great risks,' said Group chairman Greg Parston.
A Department of Health spokeswoman responded by saying that people had a choice in the NHS, 'In January, we set out The NHS in England: the operating framework for 2006/7. This sets out clear priorities and expectations for progress on reform and improving services to patients,' she added.