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First CCGs under investigation for breach of competition regulations

Two CCGs have become the first to face a Monitor investigation over breach of competition rules after being accused of directing patients away from the local private hospital.

The competition regulator has opened an investigation into whether patients were disadvantaged by the way non-emergency hospital services were purchased by Blackpool CCG - which is led by Dr Amanda Doyle, the co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners leadership group - and Fylde and Wyre CCG in Lancashire.

This follows allegations made by Spire Healthcare Limited that the CCGs had asked GPs to direct patients away from Spire Fylde Coast Hospital and towards Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

However GP commissioners at the two CCGs said they ‘strongly refuted’ and ‘deeply resented’ the allegations.

A Monitor spokesperson confirmed to Pulse that this was the first time a CCG was under investigation for potential breach of competition regulations since the Health and Social Care Act was implemented on 1 April. The reforms included the controversial Section 75 clause, which compels commissioners to put all services out to tender unless they can prove there is only one viable provider.

The regulator said: ‘Monitor will examine arrangements made by these two CCGs to purchase planned care and to offer patients choice. Monitor will consider whether these arrangements were consistent with the NHS competition rules which came into force in April 2013.’

‘Monitor will now gather and review information from Spire Healthcare, Blackpool CCG, Fylde and Wyre CCG and other relevant organisations before deciding how to proceed.’

Catherine Davies, executive director of co-operation and competition at Monitor, said: ‘Following a complaint by Spire Healthcare Limited we are investigating the allegations that patients have been directed away from Spire Fylde Coast Hospital and towards Blackpool Victoria Hospital. Spire believes this is not what is best for patients.’

‘The investigation is at an early stage and Monitor has not yet reached a view as to whether there has been any breach of the rules. We are now seeking further information from the organisations involved. If we find that a breach has occurred we will investigate whether patient interests have been negatively affected by these decisions.’

However, Dr Amanda Doyle, chief clinical officer for Blackpool CCG, said she ‘deeply resented’ the accusations.

She said: ‘We are extremely disappointed that Spire chose to refer their concerns to Monitor as their first line of action, rather than to have a conversation with us as commissioners.’

‘Although we are happy to work with Monitor to assist their investigation, there is not a shred of evidence to substantiate Spire’s supposition that we have told GPs to direct patients to any particular provider, and I, personally, deeply resent the accusation that either Blackpool CCG or its constituent GPs have acted in any way other than in the best interests of our patients.’

Her line was supported by Dr Tony Naughton, clinical chief officer of Fylde and Wyre CCG, who said: ‘We are extremely disappointed that Spire has chosen to refer to Monitor rather than explore and understand any changes in referral patterns with us as commissioners locally.’

‘We absolutely refute the allegation that either the CCG or local GPs have sought to inappropriately influence where patients may choose to have their treatment.’

‘We look forward to fully supporting Monitor as they carry out their investigation.’