Commissioners accused of breaking competition rules were either abiding by guidance or justified by an obligation to “maximise benefits to patients and taxpayers”, according to the Primary Care Trust Network.

The network was responding to interim findings from a Co-operation and Competition Panel inquiry that “nearly half” of primary care trusts restricted choice through block contracts, activity caps and below tariff pricing.

The response from network director David Stout states: “Many PCTs’ behaviours” are consistent with “the principles and rules of cooperation and competition”.

This was “either because they do not have the intent or necessary effect of restricting choice or competition” or because “the decision to restrict was taken on the basis that this was not against the interest of the patient population and/or taxpayers”.

Independent sector provider Circle has complained that NHS Wiltshire and NHS Bath and North East Somerset  had introduced set minimum waiting times, which they say disadvantage those able to deliver shorter waits. But the PCT Network responded that, while this policy was “undesirable” and prompted by “financial constraint”, it did not break transparency or discrimination rules.

The panel’s final report on potential breaches of the principles of “any willing provider” rules and the result of Circle’s conduct complaint are due in June.