Tuesday, 14 February 2012

No to Health and Social Care Bill

In this week's Cornish Guardian, my column focusses on the Government's disastrous Health Bill. It is as follows:

During the General Election, David Cameron claimed he was defending the “NHS from Labour’s cuts and reorganisations.” In his Party’s manifesto, he pledged to “increase health spending every year.”

The Conservative Party also promised there would be no top-down reorganisation of the National Health Service.

But since May 2010, the number of nurses working in the NHS has been reduced by 3,500, while the Royal College of Nursing and others fear the loss of another 2,500 to 5,000 nursing jobs. And recently thousands took to the streets in Penzance to protest at cuts to West Cornwall Hospital.

The Government has set out a commitment to cut £20 billion from health funding by 2014. It is also attempting to push through a major reorganisation of the NHS, with its increasingly unpopular Health and Social Care Bill.

Measures within the Bill include the abolition of Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities, and their replacement with over 270 clinical / GP commissioning groups. It also includes measures to force greater competition into the provision of healthcare, further privatising the NHS, by opening up a free-for-all for private companies or “any qualified provider.”

Opposition is unprecedented. It comes from nurses, midwives, GPs, doctors and, last week, even extended to three Cabinet Ministers who briefed against the changes.

The legislation remains mired in controversy, but the Health Secretary and his team have decided to bypass the democratic process and are already implementing many of the proposed changes. It has also been revealed that some large consultancies have been awarded large contracts to teach “business skills” to GPs.

Unsurprisingly, the Health Service Journal has described the reforms as “unnecessary, poorly conceived, badly communicated … and a dangerous distraction.”

Clare Gerada of the Royal College of GPs has meanwhile stated “there is absolutely no evidence that opening up the health service to multiple private organisations is going to result in anything other than a fragmented, expensive and bureaucratic health service for all of us and one that will be very difficult to sort out.”

Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, a former GP, has condemned the Bill as a “hand grenade thrown into the NHS,” while Lib Dem MP Andrew George has stated “the fact is that we run the risk of creating a health service which is driven more by private profit than by concern for patient care.”

Like many people, I share these concerns and I oppose the Bill.

Now must be the time for David Cameron to listen to healthcare professionals, worried patients and the general public, and to scrap the Bill and live up to his election promises.

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