Monitor, the sector regulator of NHS-funded healthcare services, has launched a consultation on how it proposes to enforce the rules for which it will be responsible under the new NHS regulatory regime.
Powers conferred by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 will enable Monitor to take enforcement action against NHS foundation trusts and other providers who breach the requirements of its new regime. Its priority in exercising its new functions is to ensure that patients' interests are protected and promoted, says the agency.
Monitor will be empowered to require providers who breach their licence conditions to put things right, or, in certain circumstances, risk having their licences revoked. It will also be able to impose financial penalties.
In addition, the agency will be able to ensure that all NHS providers supply the information it needs in order to regulate the sector. The principles that will inform the way Monitor undertakes this task are set out in draft Enforcement Guidance, on which it will be consulting until Monday, February 11, 2013.
The final Enforcement Guidance will apply to the existing 144 foundation trusts, any NHS trusts that achieve foundation status, and also to independent and third-sector providers of NHS-funded hospital and community healthcare services which will have to apply for a licence in future.
"We have regulated NHS foundation trusts for some years to ensure they are financially robust and well-led, in order to deliver quality care for patients," said Adrian Masters, managing director of sector development at Monitor.
"We are taking on new powers that will cover other NHS-funded providers as well, but our intention is to operate the new regime under similar principles to the current one. We are therefore seeking feedback on a new enforcement framework, which we will develop and refine over time as we learn through practice. However, we are keen to start with a reasonably effective regime, building on our regulatory experience to date," he added.
In carrying out its new role, Monitor will license providers of NHS services in England and exercise functions in four areas: setting prices; enabling integrated care; preventing anti-competitive behaviour; and supporting commissioners to maintain service continuity.
It will also have a continuing role in assessing NHS trusts for foundation trust status and for ensuring that foundation trusts are financially viable and well-led, in terms of both quality quality and finances.
The guidance which is now being consulted on will come into effect when licences are granted to foundation trusts, which is expected to be April 1, 2013. All providers of NHS health services will require a licence unless granted exemption by the Department of Health.
The guidance also applies to new powers granted to Monitor under the 2012 Act to apply competition law in relation to the provision of healthcare services in England. These will be held concurrent with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), meaning that either Monitor or the OFT may act in relation to a particular case.