CMA opens investigation into NHS hospital trusts merger

Two doctors looking at a file in a busy hospital corridor

In 2013, the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) predecessor, the Competition Commission, prohibited a previous merger between the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. As a result, the hospital trusts were required to enter into a 10-year commitment not to merge without the prior approval of the CMA.

Since the Competition Commission’s decision, there have been significant changes to policy within the NHS that have affected the role that competition plays. Competition between NHS hospitals is no longer used by the NHS to drive quality, with collaboration often viewed as a better way to meet increasing demands for care and deliver better value.

This has been taken into account in recent hospital mergers reviewed by the CMA, including the merger between Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust, which was cleared in August 2019.

The CMA’s assessment of the potential effects of this merger on NHS services in the east Dorset area will take these policy changes into account. During the investigation, the CMA will work closely with Bournemouth and Poole Hospital trusts, the NHS regulators and local commissioners to assess the role that competition plays in how the hospitals provide services and whether any loss of competition brought about by the merger could have a negative impact on patients.

The CMA is also inviting views on these issues from patients and their representative groups, commissioning groups, other healthcare providers, regulators, local authorities and other interested bodies.

More broadly, the CMA is aware of longer-term NHS plans to exempt mergers between NHS hospitals from CMA review, which it fully supports.

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