The competition process is obstructing efforts to improve patient services, Chris Hopson, chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network has warned.
He has written to Health Secretary Jeremey Hunt urging him to look again at the competition rules and processes following a decision by the Competition Commission to block the merger plans of Bournemouth and Poole Foundation Trusts.
The Commission said there was insufficient evidence that patients would benefit from the proposed merger.
Mr Hopson said this decision raised significant fears on how competition law was being applied within NHS settings and on trusts’ ability to make much needed changes to how services are delivered.
“NHS providers are having to spend huge amounts of money and time, on lawyers, accountants and economists, trying to satisfy the regulators – the Competition Commission, the Office of Fair Trading and Monitor. Monitor needs to take a much greater role in providing guidance and advice to the competition authorities which is specific to the NHS and will protect the interests of patients.
“Decisions about NHS services are meant to be taken as close to patients as possible, and yet we now see them happening even further away.
“Everyone seems to agree that the NHS needs to change quickly to deliver new and better models of care for patients. The application of the competition process has added new barriers to progress and improving patient services.”
Mr Hopson said local NHS services were now faced with a catch 22 situation when they tried to change to improve or avoid services becoming financially or clinically unsustainable. Trusts needed a clearer process which resolved the existing conflicts between the required approach to reconfiguration and to competition.
In his letter to Mr Hunt he calls for the competition rules and processes that impact on the NHS to be streamlined under Monitor’s auspices with a much clearer definition of patient interest.
“We must not force more trusts seeking to do the right thing and plan to avoid their services becoming unsustainable, being undermined by expensive, bureaucratic, competition processes,” he said.
Catherine Davies, director of co-operation and competition at Monitor will be discussing these concerns in a talk at Hospital Directions on how procurement, choice and competition can be used to deliver benefits for patients.