Report (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 6th March 2012.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 7:30 pm, 6th March 2012

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by clarifying the role of the Competition Commission as set out in the Bill because I think that there have been a few misconceptions about this. The commission would not enforce the Competition Act in relation to healthcare services, nor would the commission's role affect the applicability of competition law to the NHS, and the Bill would not give the Competition Commission direct powers over providers of NHS services.

Instead, the Bill would give the Competition Commission two narrow, specific roles in relation to NHS services. First, the commission would be the independent adjudicator where sufficient providers or, in some cases, commissioners objected to Monitor's proposals for licence modifications or its methodologies to be used to calculate prices or levies for providers to ensure the continuity of essential services.

Secondly, the Bill currently provides that the commission would undertake reviews of the development of competition in the provision of NHS services and the way that Monitor was fulfilling its functions relating to the provision of such services. Where it concluded that something was or could be averse to the public interest, it could make non-binding recommendations to the Secretary of State, Monitor or the NHS Commissioning Board.

I am aware of a concern that this wording could imply that the review should focus the development of competition as an end in itself. That is absolutely not our intention. That is why commissioners will decide when competition and choice will be used, and indeed whether it will be used, as a means of improving services and enabling patients to have control of their care. To make that clear, we have tabled Amendment 185, which provides that the reviews relate to the effectiveness of competition in realising benefits for NHS patients, rather than the development of competition per se. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this wording provides clarity about the purpose of the reviews and is consistent with the principle that competition should not be pursued as an end in itself. I therefore beg to move Amendment 185.