Are calls to kill off NHS competition regulations misdirected?

Mary Guy, PhD candidate at UEA Law School and CCP member, has released this press comment:

Competition in the NHS could be managed even if proposed regulations are introduced, according to a researcher at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

It follows warnings from Dr Michael Dixon, chair of NHS Alliance and interim president of NHS Clinical Commissioners, about new rules published last month that aim to introduce competition to the NHS. Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary, has also tabled a motion which, if passed, would see the House of Lords reject the regulations introduced by the government.

Mary Guy, a researcher at the ESRC Centre for Competition Policy at UEA, says that if Labour’s call to reject the regulations is successful, it is unclear what the outcome for the NHS would be.

“However, implementation of the regulations does not mean that competition in the NHS cannot be managed,” she said. “EU competition law makes provision for exceptions, which would mean that where competition is not beneficial because it inhibits the provision of public service obligations, including healthcare, these would not be opened up to competition.

“A further protective mechanism is Monitor’s role as economic regulator for healthcare. Experience in The Netherlands, the only other EU Member State to experiment with economic regulators in healthcare, suggests that the presence of a dedicated healthcare regulator forces the general competition authority to recognise that healthcare is a unique market which cannot be opened to competition in the same way as, for example, utilities.”

The National Health Service (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) Regulations 2013 were intended to put the Principles and Rules of Co-operation and Competition (PRCC) used by the NHS Co-operation and Competition Panel (NHS CCP) on a statutory footing.

Ms Guy added: “This appears relatively uncontroversial, given that the NHS CCP was established under the previous Labour government and advised the Secretary of State. What is more sensitive is that Monitor – an independent regulator – will be enforcing the Regulations, which include powers for it to investigate anticompetitive agreements and abuses of dominance. This is generally understood as the ‘full force of EU competition law’.” 

Mary recently wrote for our Competition Policy blog on the topic of “Monitor’s Advice to the OFT and the New Healthcare Regulation

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