The Foundation Trust Network has urged Monitor to stay independent when setting the national pricing tariff, despite pressures on the NHS budget.

The umbrella body’s call comes amid provider concerns the regulator’s price setting functions are too closely linked to NHS England’s goal of balancing its budget.

Phillippa Hentsch, policy adviser at the FTN, told HSJ that Monitor faced “its biggest test so far” in setting a tariff that “realistically reflects what efficient providers are capable of delivering”.

“With the affordability challenge facing the NHS at its greatest, the importance of distinguishing between what the provider sector can deliver and what is required to balance the NHS budget is crucial,” she added.

Her comments came as a consultation on the two agencies’ proposals for the 2015-16 pricing settlement closed last week.

It includes a proposal to set the efficiency requirement on providers to between 3 and 5 per cent, a measure the FTN described as “unsustainable”.

In its submission to the consultation, the FTN said: “The national tariff prices, efficiency factor and national variations must not be used as the primary driver to balance the NHS budget.

“The Health and Social Care Act 2012 set out the provisions for independent price-setting, currency design and commissioning functions. 

An NHS England spokeswoman said: “It’s crucial that the pricing system meets the needs of patients now and in the future, and we have to strike a balance to ensure services are meeting these needs in an efficient way.

“We are pleased that the FTN and others have taken the opportunity to provide feedback on the 2015-16 national tariff proposals, including our proposed approach to setting the efficiency requirement.”

“Our role in relation to price setting is to work jointly with Monitor to meet our statutory duties in a way that will best meet the needs of patients.”

Monitor declined to comment on the issue of its independence.