The Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP) is conducting a study into the operation of the “any willing provider” (AWP) model, in relation to free choice of provider for routine elective care. The study will investigate whether the AWP model is being used in a way which is consistent with the requirements of national choice policy and the Principles and Rules of Co-operation and Competition (PRCC).

Patients have had the right to free choice of provider for routine elective care since 2008. However, there have been complaints by providers (both NHS and independent ones) that PCTs may be discriminating between providers on the basis of ownership, along with allegedly restricting choice and competition.

The stated purpose of the study is to investigate whether and how AWP is being implemented and to identify any behaviour which is inconsistent with the PRCC. In particular, the CCP will examine the extent and materiality of the alleged problem and the extent to which this is caused by PCTs restricting choice and competition, and/or by use of different contract and payment terms which discriminate between different providers.

The CCP is currently gathering evidence from providers. It will publish an initial assessment in February 2011, then a full report by June 2011. For the time being, it is worth being aware of the following important points:  

  • This study is not investigating any individual cases with a view to enforcement action. It will instead focus on general issues.
  • The results of this study may inform future policy on the use of AWP, as the Government’s plans under the White Paper are to expand the use of this model into other areas of treatment.
  • Although this study considers the behaviour of PCTs, GP commissioners ought to be aware of this investigation and its results, as they will be taking over commissioning responsibility for these services.
  • It may be prudent for PCTs to consider whether their own policies and practices for referral of patients and use of the AWP for elective choice are consistent with the PRCC. Although the current investigation is a general one, this does not mean that an individual case would not be considered in the future.