What regulation means for patients

The changes being made to the health and care system are designed to

  • ensure the needs of patients are central to all healthcare-related decisions and
  • give commissioners the freedom to improve how patients are treated, across all health and social care settings.

Effective sector regulation will play a crucial part in this, by making sure that all providers of healthcare services operate efficiently, in the interests of patients.

Why does regulation matter for patients?

If you are an NHS patient in England, you will soon have more choice about how you get the treatment you need. You’ll be able to make decisions about how and where you receive your care, helped by professionals like your GP.

GPs and other healthcare professionals will also start working as ‘commissioners’. Commissioners will be responsible for:

  • deciding what care services their communities need
  • selecting the organisations they think can offer patients the best quality care services for their communities.

How will regulation work?

Monitor, which is independent of the Government, currently regulates foundation trusts. In future, Monitor will regulate all providers of NHS services, including independent (private and voluntary) sector providers on the same basis.

Organisations providing NHS care services will need a licence from Monitor, unless they qualify for an exemption. This licence will help Monitor make sure that:

  • the NHS is delivering the best value for patients
  • patients’ right to choice under the NHS Constitution is protected
  • patients have continued access to services when a provider gets into financial difficulties

Monitor will also oversee regulations that protect patients’ interests by ensuring that commissioners always deliver the best possible value. The regulations will:

  • ensure good commissioning practice, meaning that commissioners work openly, avoid discrimination and buy services from the providers which best meet patients’ needs
  • ensure that commissioners enable patients to make meaningful choices about how and where they receive their healthcare, a right set out in the NHS Constitution
  • prevent commissioners from  limiting competition, if this is against patients’ interests
  • ensure that commissioners manage conflicts of interest and that particular interests do not influence their decisions.

Two other bodies will work alongside Monitor to maintain high standards of care for all patients:

  • the Care Quality Commission (CQC) checks the quality and safety of all NHS services
  • the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises health and social care professionals about the best forms of treatment.

What are the consultations looking at?

The Department of Health is consulting on these detailed proposals as part of the wider healthcare reforms. The consultations cover:

Licensing organisations providing NHS services, including:

  • Who will be required to hold a licence?
  • How can providers challenge proposed changes to licence conditions?
  • What is the maximum fine that Monitor could impose for a breach of licence conditions?

Alongside the DH consultations, Monitor is also consulting on its draft licence conditions for providers. Monitor’s consultation document can be downloaded from their website:

Procurement, patient choice and competition regulations for commissioners, which:

  • sets out proposals for minimum requirements in relation to procurement, choice and competition
  • seeks views on whether the proposed safeguards are enough to protect the interests of patients, or if any additional requirements are needed.

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