COMMERCIAL: Plans to centralise some acute services in Bristol could be anti-competitive and must be investigated further, the Co-operation and Competition Panel has ruled.

The centralisation of provision and management of head and neck services at University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust and of breast care and urology at North Bristol Trust took place on 25 March.

The panel concluded there was “a realistic prospect” the Bristol changes could “materially reduce competitive pressure” in each of the services by “removing a close competitor”.

As a result Monitor, which has now incorporated the panel into its co-operation and competition directorate, will proceed with a more in-depth “phase two” investigation.

Plans to centralise the services have been in development since 2003 as part of the commissioner-led Bristol Health Services Plan. They are separate to last year’s discussions – now all but abandoned - about a potential organisational merger between the two trusts.

In a statement announcing the introduction of the changes last month, the trusts said it was in line with the principles of Lord Darzi’s Next Stage Review, which called for services to be “localised where possible and centralised where necessary”.

The panel began considering the changes after being contacted by the trusts in December last year. It judged the reconfigurations constituted “merger transactions” because they would lead to previously independent services coming under common control.

Monitor’s phase two review is due to complete by August.