I will try to be as brief as I can, while giving the Committee the information it wishes to have.
This package of measures is aimed at promoting collaboration in the NHS, reflecting a shift towards integration between commissioners, providers and other partners as a way of improving the healthcare people receive. Clause 70 allows for the removal of Monitor and the Competition and Markets Authority’s duties to co-operate in the exercise of their functions as concurrent competition regulators. Instead, they are replaced with a duty on NHS England to share regulatory information with, and provide assistance to, the CMA where the CMA requires it to exercise its functions.
Clause 71 removes the Competition and Markets Authority’s role in reviewing mergers solely involving NHS foundation trusts, NHS trusts or a combination of both. The CMA has led a number of investigations into NHS provider mergers or acquisitions in recent years. Although it has approved all but one merger, the investigations have been costly and time-consuming for the organisations involved.
We recognise the CMA’s important role in investigating alleged infringements of competition law and particular markets if it sees issues for consumers with reducing competition. However, as has been alluded to, the NHS is not a true market, and it has become clear that the CMA is not the right body to review NHS mergers. Instead, NHS England will continue to review all NHS provider mergers to ensure they have clear benefits for patients and the taxpayer. The CMA will retain its merger control powers in relation to the private healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, where competition plays a greater role. The NHS should be able to make decisions about provider mergers itself. Without this clause, NHS provider mergers will still be subject to costly, time-consuming investigations.
Building on the experience of the last few years, the Bill will clarify the central role of collaboration in driving performance and quality in the system. As part of that, under clause 72, we are looking to remove Monitor’s role as a concurrent competition regulator. However, although we are removing Monitor’s competition regulation functions, it is right that NHS England should continue to share regulatory information with and provide assistance to the CMA so that the CMA can carry out its functions. The clause will ensure that the CMA has the information and assistance it needs to do that in respect of its competition functions to prevent anti-competitive behaviour in the wider sector. That will ensure that the CMA can continue to make sure that the healthcare sector works for consumers, patients and the taxpayer.
The clause removes Monitor’s competition functions, which it exercises concurrently with the CMA. It also inserts schedule 12, which makes consequential amendments in relation to the removal of Monitor’s competition functions. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 allowed Monitor to exercise some of the functions that the CMA holds under the Competition Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act 2002, but solely in relation to the provision of healthcare services in England. Those included powers to take action on anti-competitive agreements and conduct in the sector and powers in relation to mergers in the sector.
The Bill will enhance collaboration between different NHS commissioners, providers and local authorities. We therefore expect that NHS England’s primary role, following its merger with Monitor, will be to support commissioners and providers to deliver safe, effective and efficient care, rather than to act as an economic or competition regulator.
While competition will continue to play an important role, including through patient choice and the new provider selection regime, it is right that the duties and role of the merged NHS England give greater weight to fostering collaboration and integration rather than enforcing competition, and that competition regulation is left to the CMA. The concurrent competition duties and functions of Monitor should therefore be removed. Schedule 12, inserted by clause 72, makes the necessary consequential amendments to take account of the removal of Monitor’s competition functions. The clause allows NHS England to work collaboratively with organisations to deliver the best possible services to patients.
Finally, clause 73 removes the CMA’s role in reviewing contested licence conditions. The licence conditions have not changed substantially since they were first agreed in 2013. However, NHS England and NHS Improvement’s oversight of the NHS has changed significantly. Their primary role is to support the delivery of safe, efficient and effective care. The merged NHS England, as provided for under this Bill, should be able to set its own licence conditions for providers and regulate providers of NHS services without needing to refer matters to an external competition regulator such as the CMA.
NHS England will remain under duties to consult with local organisations on revised licence conditions. That, alongside the removal of the CMA’s review functions, ensures that any decisions remain in the interests of the NHS as a whole. In addition, NHS England’s accountability arrangements to the Secretary of State and Parliament offer a further safeguard against disproportionate changes to licence conditions. Sufficient safeguards, such as those that I have mentioned, ensure that providers have input into any proposed changes, without the need for oversight from a third party.
We therefore believe that these measures deliver the changes that the NHS has been asking for to help it deliver the long-term plan and recover from the pandemic. I therefore commend them to the Committee.
I will not detain the Committee long, but perhaps we need a minute to pause, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South said on Tuesday, this marks the end of an era. Monitor is gone, competition is no more, and procurement is gone—I think—and become bespoke, to be determined in more detail in the regulations. Perhaps even more stark is the fact that ICBs now have providers on the board, having jettisoned the GPs, and that NHS England is now both an actual commissioner and a systems manager for both commissioners and providers. It feels like we are going back to the future.
As the Minister said, these clauses end the role of the Competition and Markets Authority. This is the final nail; it is perhaps the final recognition that the wild promises made about the 2012 Act have failed to achieve what they said they would. The expectations that Lansley set out back then have failed to produce any desirable results. I do not know whether Government Members wish to shed a tear at this point for the end of these measures, but, for Opposition Members, health is not a commodity; it is a right. Health is not a product, and the NHS is not—and never can be—a market.
As we see the end of the ideological attempt to create a market, Opposition Members cheer the bidding into history of this failed experiment, which should never have occurred. Turning to the actual substance of the clauses, as the Minister set out, they do what is necessary to achieve that aim.