8 Feb 2011

NHS reforms criticised by health charities

Channel 4 News takes a look at why leading healthcare charities are so worried about the radical reforms proposed for the NHS.

Health Charities criticise NHS reforms (c) Reuters

In a letter to The Times newspaper eight of the UK’s leading health charities called on MPs to make major alterations to the proposed legislation “to ensure the NHS will be answerable to everyone it serves”.

The Government has pledged to make patient involvement and democratic accountability a major facet of its reforms to the NHS. However, although supporting this mission, the group of charities has highlighted fears that the transference of £80 billion pounds of the NHS budget away from Primary Care Trusts (PCT) to GP consortia is “too weak” a plan to achieve the goals.

Currently PCT managers are responsible for buying and planning local services but under the new legislation proposed this would be handed over to groups of GPs. Eventually two-tiers of NHS management, PCTs and the ten current health authorities, will be abolished.

The charitable groups have voiced serious concerns that these reforms will not give more patient involvement with the treatment they receive. In the letter they continued: “Greater patient and public involvement leads to better care and more efficient services, yet the proposed reforms do little to give patients a stronger voice at a local level”.

“The proposed reforms do little to give patients a stronger voice at a local level.” Letter from Health Charities

The eight signatory charities to the letter are The British Heart Foundation, Alzheimer’s Society, Asthma UK, Diabetes UK, Rethink, The Stroke Association and Breakthrough Breast Cancer. They are demanding that the management system continues to consist of democratically-elected scrutiny committees and “insist on a strong independent scrutiny function” that they believe will not be the case if budget powers are devloved to GP consortia.

Peter Hollins, Chief Executive at the British Heart Foundation, told Channel 4 News: “The Government’s ambition to put patients at the heart of its new NHS is laudable. But there’s a missing link here – the wish itself is not enough. To make it a reality there needs to be a defined route giving patients and the public their voice in decisions about what services are commissioned and what they look like. Without measures in law to ensure this happens, patients will never truly be at the heart of the NHS.”

Channel 4 News asked the NHS Confederation, who help to implement and educate policy changes to NHS workers, for their thoughts on the proposed legislation. Acting Chief Executive, Nigel Edwards, voiced fears over who will be accountable under the new system when problems arise: “A key issue in the bill is accountability. With central government loosening day-to-day control, we need to be sure who is going to get a grip when things go wrong.

“With proper checks and balances in place, a new NHS system will be able to manage itself while making tough decisions in a fair, ordered way. Without proper accountability, the risk is that positive dynamic change will become chaos and instability.”

The Department of Health have welcomed the criticism and assured Channel 4 News that they will work with the voluntary sector “to ensure the Bill, which is in its early stages, delivers the reality of improved patient involvement”.

Last month the House of Commons Health Committee admitted that the proposals could hinder the NHS in making its promised cuts target. So far a total of 141 consortia have signed up for ‘pathfinder’ missions as a pilot scheme before the full scale implementation in 2013.