Monitor’s chief executive has told HSJ it will be easier for the regulator to assuage commissioners’ concerns about NHS competition rules now that Sir David Nicholson is no longer in charge of NHS England.

David Bennett said Simon Stevens, who took over as NHS England chief executive this month, was probably “more sympathetic to the role that competition and choice can play” in the health service.

Monitor took on competition regulation powers in April 2013, under controversial 2012 Health Act reforms that also gave the Office of Fair Trading responsibility for reviewing some NHS mergers.

Sir David became an outspoken critic of the reforms’ impact on the NHS. In September last year, he told an HSJ summit that the law might require changing because competition regulations were obstructing measures to drive up care quality.

Asked if Sir David’s departure would make it easier for Monitor to persuade clinical commissioning groups that competition is not the problem some think it to be, Mr Bennett told HSJ: “Whenever you get a change of leadership, it is an opportunity to reset things. And clearly David Nicholson was very concerned about this, so I think it will be a useful opportunity to reset NHS England’s thinking, and our joint thinking, about it.

“It’s probably true to say as well that Simon [Stevens] is more sympathetic towards the role that competition and choice can play. Not that it’s the only answer by any means, but [he is] sympathetic to the notion that it can play a role in improving services.”

Monitor recently completed 10 “choice and competition roadshows”, intended to explain competition regulations to commissioners, and how choice and competition could be used “in the interest of patients”.

But Mr Bennett said: “It is more difficult to do that if the chief executive of NHS England is saying it’s all wrong and it’s getting in the way.”

He denied that the public split between Monitor and NHS England over the role of choice and competition went beyond Sir David. “I think it is only David that was making those public pronouncements,” he said.

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