Fears over health service shake-up

The Government is proposing major changes to the NHS.
The Government is proposing major changes to the NHS.
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HEALTH experts and nursing chiefs today criticised a “lack of accountability and consultation” over plans to reform the National Health Service.

The British Medical Association (BMA), Royal College of Nursing (RCN), as well as the Unison and Unite unions, have raised concerns about the speed, scale, and suitablity of plans to create GP Commissioning Consortia – part of a national programme which aims to generate greater commercial competition between the NHS and private companies within the health service.

The reforms, which will be unveiled today in the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill, will give GPs across the country power over commissioning treatment worth about £80billion.

A total of 141 consortia – including three in the North East – have signed up as “pathfinders” to pilot the new arrangements ahead of their planned implementation in 2013.

They will serve more than half of the population of England.

There is also concern over plans to allow private firms to bid for services, which threatens to force NHS services out of business.

Glenn Turp, regional director for the RCN Northern branch, which includes Sunderland, said: “The Government says that it wants to see high-quality commissioning that is clinician led. But it’s clear from their responses to these questions that they have not issued any guidance at all to ensure that the expertise of all members of the health care family are listened to in our region.

“Nurses can provide vital clinical expertise and yet there is no statutory requirement for GP commissioners to include nursing representation on their management boards.

“It suggests that the value of nurse leadership is not being taken seriously.

“We have seen three NHS commissioning consortia established across the North East without any involvement of nursing leadership and this is extremely concerning.

“But what is equally concerning is that the Government have not put in place any transparency measures or accountability procedures to ensure that hundreds of millions of pounds of local health money is spent appropriately.”

The RCN is the largest trade union representing nurses in the UK and has 18,000 members in the Northern region.

Mr Turp added: “It is all very well saying that accountability for the establishment of these new bodies rests with the SHA, but the reality is that the Government is shortly to abolish the SHAs.

“What happens to the accountability after that time?”

Dr Stewart Findlay, a County Durham-based doctor and spokesman for GP consortia, said: “The NHS needs to be cost-effective and efficient. The trouble with PCTs is they grew and grew to become too bureaucratic, so it became difficult to take a very simple decision.”

But Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GPs committee, said: “We too are very concerned about the scale and pace of these reforms, coming as they do when the NHS also has to find up to £20billion in efficiency savings.”

Karen Jennings, head of health at Unison, said: “It will not benefit patients but will drain precious money away from the NHS and into the pockets of private health companies.”

A report by the NHS Confederation acknowledged the potential benefits of the changes, but warned that they were “extraordinarily risky” at a time when the NHS is losing 45 per cent of its management resources and facing its toughest financial constraints for a decade.

However, Prime Minister David Cameron has given his strong support to the reforms and spoken of his political and personal “passion” for modernisation.