BMA calls for ‘active stand’ against health bill

Family doctors must take an “active stand” against the Government’s health reforms by preventing private firms from controlling NHS budgets, the British Medical Association has warned.BMA calls for 'active stand' against health billThe call-to-arms is contained in a strongly-worded letter from the BMA to 22,000 general practitioners, which argues the Health and Social Care Bill will be “irreversibly damaging to the NHS”.

It marks a move from the BMA opposing the Health and Social Care Bill to advising members to do something about it, if it receives Royal Assent.

The letter, by Dr Laurance Buckman, chair of the BMA’s GPs’ committee, describes the Bill as “complex, incoherent and not fit for purpose”.

It warns the legislation will be “almost impossible to implement successfully, given widespread opposition across the NHS workforce”.

Dr Buckman argued the reforms “will be irreversibly damaging to the NHS as a public service, converting it into a competitive marketplace that will widen health inequalities and be detrimental to patient care”, and “could cause irreparable damage to the relationship between GPs and their patients”.

Although stronger in tone than previous criticisms the BMA has made, the statements in the letter do not change the union’s position. It moved to a position of total opposition last November.

However, Dr Buckman also called for GPs to act if the Bill becomes law.

Doctors have become increasingly concerned about the role of private firms in running clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which will be responsible for buying services for the NHS. These will control about two-thirds of the service’s £100+ billion budget.

The Bill contains provisions for private firms to become involved in CCGs, with the Government arguing they will just provide back-office support.

But Dr Buckman wrote: “Unless GPs take an active stand, the day-to-day running of the CCG, and especially its commissioning function, is likely to be outsourced to the hands of organisations providing commissioning support services (CSSs).

“These bodies will initially do some or all of the “back office” functions, but we fear that, in time, they could become the de facto CCG management.”

He continued: “We believe this will lead to the privatisation of commissioning, destroy the public health dimension to commissioning, with a loss of local accountability to local populations, and is likely to exacerbate health inequalities.”

This point is central to much opposition to the Bill, which opponents argue is a poorly-disguised Trojan horse for privatisation of the NHS.

Many GPs favour some sort of clinically-led commissioning – putting doctors in charge of buying health services – but Dr Buckman said the Bill was not necessary to achieve this.

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