A call by the British Medical Association for the government to withdraw or further amend its health reforms, which they say pose an “unacceptably high risk to the NHS”, has been described as “disappointing” by the DH.
BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said there was an “inappropriate and misguided reliance on ‘market forces’” to shape services, which could have long-term knock-on effects.
In an letter sent to every MP, Dr Meldrum said: “It is clear that the troubled passage of the Health and Social Care Bill reflects real concern over the future direction of the health service in England.”
He said the BMA acknowledged government efforts to address concerns about the bill, but added: “However, we still believe that the government’s reform plans pose an unacceptably high risk to the NHS, threatening its ability to operate effectively and equitably, now and in the future.
“This is why the BMA continues to call for the bill to be withdrawn or, at the very least, to be subject to further, significant amendment.”
The letter said widening patient choice to “any qualified provider” across a larger range of services could destabilise local health economies if not carefully managed.
It also said not enough thought had been given to the “unintended knock-on effects and long-term consequences” of proposals in the bill.
The letter said focus on the changes from the reforms was creating a “noticeable distraction” from efforts to improve the quality of patient care at a time when the NHS was working to make £20bn in efficiency savings.
It said: “The risks are high, not least because the long-term effects of the legislation are likely to be extensive.
“Meaningful, sustainable reform needs to have the full confidence of patients and those working in the health service.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Dr Meldrum said the reliance on market forces could mean that hospitals would be forced to treat wealthy foreigners rather than poor patients to raise cash.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The BMA’s campaign is disappointing because as the doctors’ union they previously said they were pleased that the government has accepted the Future Forum’s core recommendations, and that there will be significant revisions to the Health and Social Care Bill.
“We will never privatise the NHS and patients will never have to pay for NHS care. Our plans have been greatly strengthened in order to safeguard the future of the NHS.”
Future Forum chairman Professor Steve Field said: “It became clear during the listening exercise that the NHS had to change. So we were pleased that the government listened and put forward over 180 amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill to improve its plans to safeguard the future of the NHS. The old hospital based system has to develop into a more preventative, community based system.”