In 2016 we reported our research on NHS commissioners’ and providers’ understandings and use the rules on competition, and our investigation of how commissioners used competitive and cooperative commissioning mechanisms at local level from 2013 to 2015. Since 2015, when the last phase of field work was undertaken, the legal framework governing the procurement of clinical services has not changed. The generally pro-competitive provisions of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (HSCA 2012) remain in force. In addition, the Public Contracts Regulations 2015 (PCR 2015) came into force in April 2016 introducing further requirements in respect of competitive procurement. Despite no substantive changes in the legislation governing procurement processes, since 2015 there has been a considerable national policy shift towards cooperative methods of commissioning.
Firstly, the ‘Five Year Forward View’ (5YFV) published by the NHS England (NHSE) in October 2014 instigated a number of the New Models of Care (NMC) vanguard sites. Many of these involved the merger or at least closer cooperation of a range of NHS organisations. This view was reinforced by the national planning guidance issued in late 2015 (Delivering the Forward View: NHS Planning Guidance 2016/17-2020/21). This document stated that the NHS should concentrate on local, placed based planning to be achieved by cooperation between local stakeholders. The plans were to be called ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’, and the groups of organisations were named ‘Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships’ (STPs). These cooperative modes of coordination were regarded as the preferable (and in fact, mandated) method by which health services would be planned and commissioned. Lastly, the notion of Accountable Care Organisations (ACOs) or Systems (ACSs) was introduced in 2017. These were seen as natural successors to STPs under which NHS organisations would either merge formally or work in close cooperation. In the light of these policy developments there was a need to investigate the way in which local commissioners and providers managed the interplay between cooperation and competition in commissioning clinical services.
The aims of this stage of the field work remained the same as those of the initial study. The 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 (CHS).