Steve Field, chair of the government’s NHS Future Forum review, has told HSJ it is “not just a paper exercise” but says “going back” on the Health Bill is not an option.
Professor Field, immediate past chair of the Royal College of GPs, spoke to HSJ in his first interview since agreeing to lead the eight-week review.
The forum was established by prime minister David Cameron, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and health secretary Andrew Lansley to advise on changes to the government’s unpopular reform plans. They have delayed their legislation by a month.
There will be around 40-50 members of the review, mainly NHS clinicians with some senior managers, and some from outside the NHS. Some are yet to be invited.
Professor Field said he expected to provide some feedback to the government during the eight weeks and produce a report at the end.
He has been supportive of greater GP involvement in commissioning but said he had also been “genuinely raising concerns” about the changes.
He said: “I have been assured they [the government] want me to act independently.
“David Cameron said he wanted a genuine period of time for reflection, listening and [finding] some solutions which might help improve the bill.
“I have been assured it is not just a paper exercise. I agreed [to chair the group] on condition it is a genuine exercise.”
However, Professor Field said the process had to produce practical ideas about how to improve the bill, rather than abandon or reverse it.
He said: “This is a pause in the bill. We have been asked to provide information and detailed responses on how the bill, as written now, can be improved.
“This isn’t a consultation exercise legally because that has already happened. [The bill] has already been through the Commons.
“It is no good saying, ‘scrap it’, because there is no solution there. Going back is no option. Healthcare needs to be delivered differently, how do we do that?”
Professor Field said much of the process would involve “going out and listening to people who are working in the NHS, together with patients and the public”.
But he said it also needed to involve organisations with an interest. Many significant interest groups such as the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of GPs have been heavily critical of elements of the reforms.
Professor Field said: “Yes we will want to engage with various organisations in a variety of different ways and I am sure they will want to engage with us. The message is ‘the door is open.’”