Eversheds says improved guidance in UK hospital mergers is ‘urgently needed’

An announcement opened the prospect for more UK public hospital mergers. Stephen Rose, partner and expert in competition law at Eversheds, has commented in response to a joint statement from the Office of Fair Trading, the Competition Commission and Monitor.

He said that the timing of the joint statement is ‘designed to draw fire’ from the announcement of the prohibition of Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust after nearly two years’ review.

Rose said: ‘The joint statement promises an expanded role for Monitor and improved guidance. Both are urgently needed.

‘In mergers of neighbouring NHS hospitals, the outcome will often turn on the defences of countervailing customer benefits and so-called “failing firm”. These defences are rarely pleaded successfully because the evidential bar for each is set high.

‘The statement rightly highlights the need for hospitals to develop the case and supporting evidence upfront but the competition agencies also need to consider rethinking their approach to allow suitable cases to be approved at first phase.’