The Office of Health Economics (OHE) has established an expert Commission to look at if and where competition has a place in the National Health Service.

In short, the OHE's Commission on Competition in the NHS has been tasked with taking a look at for which healthcare services and in which circumstances competition is likely to be of benefit or detrimental.

The move is particularly pertinent given that the government's health bill lays out significant changes to increase the availability of choice to patients and boost competition throughout the NHS, with all services to be contracted on an ‘any willing provider’ basis.

During this year, the Commission will collate evidence and advise UK policy makers on how competition and contest, when considered potentially beneficial, can be implemented, promoted and regulated.

The group, which will be chaired by James Malcomson, Professor of Economics at the University of Oxford and Fellow of All Souls College, plans to publish a report on its findings by the end of the year.

There has been much debate about the effect of market-based reforms since their introduction to the health service by Labour in 2002. The British Medical Association, for one, has long argued against commercialisation of the NHS, which, it claims, is wasting public money and negatively impacting on local health services.

According to the BMA, turning to the private sector for funding for new hospitals has “resulted in crippling debts for NHS Trusts”, and the introduction of competition between healthcare providers, as well as “costly deals” for independent sector treatment centres, has hit many existing services.

But supporters of the principle insist that increasing the degree of competition will help to maximise service efficiency and boost patient care.