The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally cleared the proposed merger between two hospital trusts, following an extensive investigation.
Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (ASP) and Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (RSC) will form a new organisation should the merger go ahead.
The two trusts previously provided clinical services in Ashford, Chertsey and Guildford.
Mergers in the NHS can be controversial owing to the fact that competition is considered one of the most important factors in providing quality services.
Thus, the merger of the two trusts was referred for an in-depth phase 2 inquiry in February after the initial CMA investigation concluded that the proposed acquisition could reduce healthcare competition.
Patients currently have the opportunity to choose which hospital to attend for consultant-led outpatient appointments.
This form of patient choice therefore has a positive knock-on effect on the quality of healthcare, as competing hospitals strive to provide a superior service in order to attract patients and, concurrently, funding.
However, the CMA examined evidence from ASP and RSC about the provision of healthcare services in the area of the merger, and found that the proposal will not result in a significant reduction in competition.
Speaking about the decision, Simon Polito, Chairman of the inquiry group, was keen to emphasise that the investigation had diligently considered the merger, owing to its importance for NHS care.
Polito stated: “Choice of hospital for patients and commissioners has an important role to play in the NHS, as do a number of other factors that help to maintain and improve the quality of services. Indeed, we have been struck throughout this investigation by the commitment and professional pride in the provision of high quality care for patients shown by the many different NHS representatives we have encountered.”
The Chairman was also keen to outline the methodology behind the decision-making process: “The impact of a hospital merger on competition will largely depend on the number and strength of alternative service providers in the local area. There are a number of hospitals nearby which currently attract significant numbers of patients from the local area. We consider that these are viewed as credible alternatives by patients and GPs.”
Concluding, Polito was adamant that the correction decision had been reached: “Against this background, and following a detailed investigation, we are satisfied that in each of the services where the hospitals overlap, the merged trust will face significant competitive pressures from other local hospitals.”
Tasked with carrying out investigations into mergers, the CMA is the UK’s primary competition and consumer authority. Launched in 2013, it is an independent, non-ministerial government department.