New rules for health care procurement in the UK. A critical assessment from the perspective of EU economic law
journal contributionposted on 28.10.2014, 14:36 by Albert Sanchez Graells
The recently adopted UK National Health Service (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) (No. 2) Regulations 2013 include an interesting (and somehow unsettling) provision authorising anti-competitive behaviour in the commissioning of health care services by the National Health Service (NHS), if that is in the (best) interest of health care users. Generally, it seems that under the new public procurement and competition rules applicable to the NHS, whatever is considered in the “interest of patients” could trump pro-competitive requirements and allow the commissioning entity to engage in distortions of competition (either directly, or by facilitating anti-competitive behaviour by tenderers and service providers) — as long as a sort of qualitative cost-benefit analysis shows that net advantages derived from the anti-competitive procurement activity. The apparent oddity of such general “authorisation” for public buyers to engage in anti-competitive procurement of health care services deserves some careful analysis, which this paper carries out. The paper assesses Regulation 10 of the NHS Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition Regulations 2013 and the substantive guidance published by the UK's health care sector regulator (Monitor) from the perspective of EU economic law (and, more specifically, in connection to public procurement and competition rules). The paper claims that there is a prima facie potential incompatibility between Regulation 10 of the 2013 NHS Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition Regulations and both EU competition law and public procurement law — which are, in principle, opposed to any anti-competitive or competition restrictive behaviour in the conduct of public procurement activities. Consequently, there is a need for an EU law compliant, restrictive interpretation and enforcement of the provision — at least where there is a cross border effect on competition and/or a cross border interest in tendering for the health care contracts, which triggers the application of both EU competition law and public procurement law.