We reported in the January 2011 edition of the Health legal update that the Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP) had launched a study into the operation of the any willing provider (AWP) model, in relation to free choice of provider for routine elective care. That study is investigating whether, in general, the AWP model is being used by commissioners in a way which is consistent with the requirements of national choice policy and the Principles and rules of Co-operation and Competition (PRCC).

As a result of that investigation, we reported that it would be prudent for PCTs to consider whether their own policies and practices for referral of patients and use of the AWP model for elective choice were consistent with the PRCC, as investigations on individual cases might be considered in the future.  

A specific complaint has in fact now been referred by Circle Health Limited to the CCP, in relation to whether NHS Wiltshire (acting as lead commissioner on behalf of itself, NHS Bath and NHS North East Somerset) has acted inconsistently with the PRCC by allegedly imposing restrictions on providers who provide, or seek to provide, elective care under the AWP model. For example, it is alleged that the PCT has limited the range of elective care specialities provided under AWP, as well as requiring providers to offer all or none of those services. There are other allegations in relation to pricing and quality requirements.  

The CCP’s assessment will consider whether the conduct in question is consistent with the PRCC. An initial decision is due early in March, although if the CCP opts for a detailed investigation, a final decision will not be due until the end of June 2011. The fact that the CCP has taken on this case is a clear confirmation that its more general investigation into the operation of AWP will not prevent it from simultaneously considering any specific complaints relating to the conduct of particular commissioners.