UNION leaders on Wearside have spoken of their fears for the NHS, after the controversial Health and Social Care Bill was passed in Parliament.
Health workers spoke out after a last-minute bid by the Labour Party to postpone final consideration of the changes was defeated by 82 votes.
The legislation will see the end of strategic health authorities and primary care trusts and give greater control over care budgets and commissioning decisions to GPs, as well as other health professionals.
Critics have argued that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and the Government have not listened to doctors, nurses and patients’ groups over the proposals.
Ann Clay, who is Wearside health branch secretary of Unison, and based at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said she was “devastated” that the bill had been passed.
“I think this is the start of the demise of the NHS,” she said.
“We’re going to see some massive changes and I have to say, I am scared for the future of people who work in the NHS and those who use it.
“I can’t understand how it has gone through in the first place with so much opposition to it.”
Glenn Turp, regional director of the Royal College of Nursing northern region, based in Sunderland, said: “The people of Sunderland are fortunate to benefit from some of the best health services in the region and the dedication of our front-line clinicians is second to none.
“However, this Bill now opens up the door for much greater competition and private sector involvement within the NHS.
“Combined with the swingeing budget cuts, which are being imposed on our region, it is understandable why people are fearful.
“NHS foundation trusts are now permitted to refocus up to 49 per cent of their patient-centred business on private health care.
“For the rest of us, who cannot or will not pay for private health care, this will mean longer waiting lists, while others jump the queue.
“For areas like Sunderland that already have huge health inequalities, this Bill will exacerbate the problem.”