Last reviewed 22 October 2013

Monitor has opened its first investigation into whether patients have been disadvantaged by the way non-emergency hospital services were purchased by two clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre area of Lancashire.

Blackpool CCG and Fylde and Wyre CCG in Lancashire have been accused by Spire Healthcare Limited of asking GPs to direct patients away from the local private Spire Fylde Coast Hospital towards the NHS Blackpool Victoria Hospital. GP commissioners at the CCGs “strongly refuted” and “deeply resented” the allegations.

A Monitor spokesperson confirmed that it was the first time that CCGs were under investigation for a potential breach of the National Health Service (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) (No 2) Regulations 2013 since they came into force on 1 April 2013. They require commissioners to put all services out to tender unless they can prove there is only one viable provider.

Spire Fylde Coast Hospital director Liz Cousins said her hospital noticed a considerable decrease in the number of NHS patients being referred there since the new Blackpool CCG and Fylde and Wyre CCG were formed. She told the Blackpool Gazette: “We believe this is largely due to the CCGs entering into a block contract with Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and failing to promote patient choice.”

The Monitor spokesperson 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.”

The regulator is in the process of gathering further information from the organisations. It will look at the arrangements that the CCGs have in place to ensure that patients are offered a choice of provider for their first outpatient appointment for elective care, and arrangements made to ensure that patients are offered a choice of alternative providers where treatment has not commenced within 18 weeks of referral.

If it is found that a breach has occurred Monitor will work to ascertain whether patients’ interests were negatively affected by the decisions.

Fylde and Wyre CCG clinical chief officer Dr Tony Naughton said the two CCGs were extremely disappointed that Spire had chosen to refer to Monitor rather than explore and understand any changes in referral patterns with them as commissioners locally. He added: “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.”