Following several versions of the NHS quasi market since 1990, a wide ranging set of reforms was introduced into the NHS under the recent Coalition government by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (HSCA 2012). The idea behind these is the same as that behind previous versions of the NHS quasi market: that competition between a wider range of providers will produce the desired results of improved quality and greater efficiency. The HSCA 2012 made a direct correlation between competitive behaviour in the NHS and competition law. The Procurement, Choice and Competition Regulations No.2 2013 relate to sections 75-77 and 304 (9) and (10) of the HSCA 2012, and indicate that competitive procurement by commissioners is to be preferred, although not in all circumstances. Monitor (the former NHS Foundation Trust regulator) took on the role of economic regulator for the whole of the NHS. Along with the national competition authorities (being, since April 2014 the Competition and Markets Authority, and prior to that, The Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission), has powers to enforce competition law to prevent anti-competitive behaviour.
At the same time, it is still necessary for providers of care to cooperate with each other in order to deliver high quality care. There are many aspects of care quality where cooperation is needed, such as continuity of care as patients move between organisations, and sharing of knowledge between clinicians. Monitor is also responsible for promoting co-operation. It is the role of NHS commissioners (including Clinical Commissioning Groups ‘CCGs’), however, to ensure that the appropriate levels of competition and cooperation exist in their local health economies.
During the course of this study, an important policy document, The Five Year Forward View (5YFV) was published by NHS England in October 2014. This did not mention competition between organisations and instead focussed on how organisations in the NHS need to cooperate with each other, and in fact at times merge to form larger organisations. And it should be noted that there have been no relevant legislative changes, so the HSCA 2012 remains in force. While studies have noted that incentives for competition and cooperation exist in healthcare, few have researched the interaction between the two. There was a need to investigate the way in which local health systems were managed to ensure that cooperative behaviour was appropriately coexisting with competition.
This project aimed to investigate how commissioners in local health systems managed the interplay of competition and cooperation in their local health economies, looking at acute and community health services (CH).