Objective The Health and Social Care Act 2012 (‘HSCA 2012’) introduced a new, statutory, form of regulation of competition into the National Health Service (NHS), while at the same time recognising that cooperation was necessary. NHS England’s policy document, The Five Year Forward View (‘5YFV’) of 2014 placed less emphasis on competition without altering the legislation. We explored how commissioners and providers understand the complex regulatory framework, and how they behave in relation to competition and cooperation.
Design We carried out detailed case studies in four clinical commissioning groups, using interviews and documentary analysis to explore the commissioners’ and providers’ understanding and experience of competition and cooperation.
Setting/participants We conducted 42 interviews with senior managers in commissioning organisations and senior managers in NHS and independent provider organisations (acute and community services).
Results Neither commissioners nor providers fully understand the regulatory regime in respect of competition in the NHS, and have not found that the regulatory authorities have provided adequate guidance. Despite the HSCA 2012 promoting competition, commissioners chose mainly to use collaborative strategies to effect major service reconfigurations, which is endorsed as a suitable approach by providers. Nevertheless, commissioners are using competitive tendering in respect of more peripheral services in order to improve quality of care and value for money.
Conclusions Commissioners regard the use of competition and cooperation as appropriate in the NHS currently, although collaborative strategies appear more helpful in respect of large-scale changes. However, the current regulatory framework contained in the HSCA 2012, particularly since the publication of the 5YFV, is not clear. Better guidance should be issued by the regulatory authorities.