Monitor is struggling to combat influential commentators’ claims that competition rules hamper essential service changes in the NHS, its chief executive has admitted.

David Bennett told the regulator’s monthly board meeting last week it had yet to identify a strategy to counter those opposed to competition because it clashed with their personal ideologies.

David Bennett

David Bennett said organisations used regulations as an ‘easy excuse’ to not make service changes

Such commentators had articles published in national newspapers, claiming competition rules prevented change, he added.

“Even if that’s not at all true, that’s an incredibly powerful message that huge numbers of people in the NHS may hear,” Mr Bennett said.

“We’re struggling a little bit to work out: how do you counter the power of that negative message?”

Mr Bennett suggested Monitor could bolster its communications at a local level by strengthening its regional teams. This could create a “capacity to talk to all local stakeholders… about everything Monitor does”.

Monitor would not let organisations use regulations as an “easy excuse” for avoiding making necessary changes, he added.

“I’m afraid it’s an easy excuse, if for whatever reason you’re not keen to drive change, to say ‘oh the regulatory system won’t let us do it’, whether its competition you blame or something else.

“I’m not sure people even do it consciously, there’s just this sense that this is all too difficult, but that’s the easy place to reach out to because it’s what everyone else does.”

Mr Bennett’s comments came in response to several non-executive board members questioning Monitor’s success in shifting attitudes to competition rules across the wider NHS.

Non-executive director Iain Osborne asked whether some of those claiming they did not understand the rules were in fact just fundamentally opposed to competition.

In response, Catherine Davies, Monitor’s director of cooperation and competition, said: “I think there’s an element of that.

“People saying ‘I don’t understand the rules’ when actually… what they mean is ‘I don’t agree with this system in principle.’”

Monitor has recently published guidance, including “hypothetical scenarios”, designed to help providers and commissioners make sense of the regulations introduced in the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and understand what actions might raise competition concerns.