Commenting in response to the decision by the Competition Commission to reject the proposed merger between Bournemouth and Poole hospitals, Chris Ham, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund said:
‘Major changes to hospital services are needed to improve the quality of care and increase financial sustainability, so today’s decision by the Competition Commission will have important implications for the NHS.
‘As the Competition Commission has pointed out, hospital mergers have a mixed record and have often failed to deliver benefits for patients. Any proposals to change services must be clearly evidenced - today’s decision shows that there are important lessons to be learned here for the NHS.
‘However, given the need for service change, regulators must act proportionately and expeditiously; in a tax-funded and cash-limited system, the time and costs involved in the regulatory process need to be weighed against the benefits it brings. Ministers were clear during the passage of the Health and Social Care Act that Monitor would act as the sector regulator for health and that the competition authorities were not expected to play a prominent role.
‘While it is important not to exaggerate the impact of a single case, the risk is that today’s decision is interpreted by the NHS as a signal that competition law will be used to block improvements to services, creating paralysis at a time when service change has never been more urgent.
‘So while the joint statement in response to today’s decision from Monitor, the Office of Fair Trading and Competition Commission about how they will work together to improve the merger process is welcome, the government must urgently clarify its approach to market regulation in health care in line with the assurances given during the passage of the Health and Social Act.’
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The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and health 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 care is available to all.