The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has announced that it will be undertaking a study into the provision of private healthcare in the UK to assess whether the market is working well for consumers. The primary focus of the study will be on acute services, rather than treatment of long-term conditions. It seems the study will touch upon the provision of private services by NHS providers.

It follows preliminary market research by the OFT which observed that patients may not be receiving the full benefit of a competitive market. The OFT observed various changes to the market in recent years; including consolidations by private providers, changes to private medical insurance networks and increased purchasing from the private sector by the NHS.

The OFT currently proposes to explore four possible areas of concern:  

  • the level of concentration amongst providers of private healthcare, and whether this limits the extent of competition in the market;
  • the existence of any barriers preventing private healthcare providers from entering or expanding in the market;
  • the existence of any restrictions on the ability of consultants and other medical professionals to practise; and
  • how consumers access and assess information, and how they exercise choice in the provision of private healthcare.

Accompanying the press release is a "scoping paper" in which the OFT sets out in detail the proposed scope of the market study (expanding upon the broad areas outlined above).

The study will commence in Spring 2011 but, in the meantime, the OFT is seeking views from interested parties on the proposed scope of its study, for example, whether the correct issues are being considered and whether any key issues are missing or are not represented fully.

Any views on the scope of the study should be submitted by 1 February 2011 (see section 6 in the scoping paper for details of how to respond).

This market study is in addition to the OFT's study into the role of competition in the commissioning of public services (featured elsewhere in this update) which is looking at commissioning across a range of public services including health, education, welfare and justice.