Acevo says Department of Health gagged review body to save minister

Chief executives body had expected complaints panel to criticise health secretary Andy Burnham

Chief executives body Acevo has accused the Department of Health of trying to prevent its own complaints body from criticising Andy Burnham, the health secretary.

The Co-operation and Competition Panel for NHS-funded services was this week due to review NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney's decision to exclude charities from bidding to provide community services.

Its decision to exclude charities followed a speech by Burnham last year in which he said the NHS should be the preferred provider of health services.

Acevo, which wants charities to run more public services, complained to the panel in December and said its investigations would put Burnham "in the dock".

But the panel, which previously agreed to investigate Acevo's complaint, said on Wednesday it would no longer proceed with the matter because new DoH guidance called Transforming Community Services required all primary care trusts to review their plans for commissioning community services.

Ralph Michell, head of policy at Acevo, said he believed the panel was about to adjudicate in Acevo's favour and the DoH had intervened to prevent embarrassment to Burnham.

"This appears to be a blatant attempt by the DoH to gag the panel just as it was on the verge of voting in our favour," he said.

Michell said Acevo would submit requests under the Freedom of Information Act to the panel and the DoH to discover what the two parties said to each other about the complaint.

He said that the DoH intervention had "snatched confusion from the jaws of clarity" on the role of the voluntary sector in bidding for NHS services.

In his blog, Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, described the decision to abandon the complaint as "a disgusting example of political manipulation".

A DoH spokeswoman denied it had attempted to influence the panel.

"The original complaint to the panel has been overtaken by events following publication of new guidance in February on the assurance of future options for the provision of community services," she said.

"We have asked strategic health authorities to ensure that PCTs, including Great Yarmouth and Waveney, review plans for future provision of community services in light of the guidance."

Dr Sushil Jathanna, chief executive of NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney, said: "We are currently reviewing the situation in light of this new development and hope to have more news on how we will move this forward soon."

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