The Department of Health has published two new consultations which are, it says, aimed at helping to ensure that patients' interests will be protected throughout the NHS.

The changes now being made to the health and care system are designed to put patients at the centre of decision-making and give commissioners the freedom to improve how patients are treated throughout the system, says the Department. Comprehensive regulation will not only ensure that the interests of patients and the wider public are safeguarded but also promote value for money in healthcare, whilst maintaining or improving quality, it adds.

The two consultations set out proposals for how Monitor, as the sector regulator for the health service, will ensure that the new system operates in the best interests of patients.

The first consultation seeks views in relation to licensing - specifically, which providers of NHS-funded services will need to hold a license with Monitor. For the first time, the agency will be regulating private and voluntary providers, setting out the safeguards needed to ensure patients receive the best quality care possible. The safeguards will also aim to preventing abuses of power, such as providers charging higher prices to boost profits or refusing to cooperate in service integration, says the Department.

The issues covered by the proposals include: - who will be required to hold a license from Monitor? - how can providers challenge proposed changes to license conditions? and - what is the maximum fine that Monitor could impose for breach of license conditions?

The closing date for responses to this consultation is October 22, 2012.

The second consultation concerns procurement, choice and competition, covering how the health service can manage potential conflicts of interest in clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), including Monitor's role in investigating any claims of a breach of their code of conduct. This also explains how, for the first time, patients' rights to choice under the NHS Constitution will be enforceable wherever they live in England.

The initiative sets out proposals for requirements to: - ensure good procurement practice by commissioners including requirements to act transparently, avoid discrimination and purchase services from the providers best placed to meet patients' needs; - ensure that commissioners enable patients to exercise their rights to choose as set out in the NHS Constitution; - prohibit commissioners from taking actions that restrict competition where this is against patients' interests; and - ensure commissioners manage conflicts of interest and that particular interests do not influence their decision-making.

The closing date for responses to this consultation is October 26, 2012.

Commenting on the consultations, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said that the Health and Social Care Act “puts the interests of patients and the public where they belong - at the heart of the NHS. We need to ensure that their interests are protected and that the health service is doing everything it can to help them, whilst not over-burdening the NHS with unnecessary bureaucracy. Commissioning, led by doctors and nurses, can use these principles to secure effective provision of services for their patients."