Health minister Daniel Poulter has said the government is listening to criticism of competition rules which have been blamed for thwarting much needed hospital reconfiguration projects.

He spoke to HSJ after a Foundation Trust Network/New Statesman fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, amid concerns that Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals and Poole Hospital foundation trusts are being prevented from making their services more sustainable through a merger. The merger proposals are currently being scrutinised by the Competition Commission, and may be blocked.

Dr Poulter insisted the current system “promotes choice for patients … within an integrated system” and did not lead to “competition for competition’s sake”.

But he added: “As with everything you listen to the situation and listen to feedback that comes in from trusts.” He said health secretary Jeremy Hunt was looking at the situation.

In the fringe session, FTN chief executive Chris Hopson had earlier urged that a “different process” was brought in for assessing reconfiguration proposals.

He said: “Our feeling is that the balance is [currently] heavily weighted towards the local consultation element.”  Referring to Bournemouth and Poole, he said the current system meant opportunities were being missed “for trusts that want to become clinically and financially sustainable to be able to do so”.