Government NHS Reforms Condemned By Health Journals
The editors of three leading healthcare journals have published a joint assault on the government's "poorly thought-through" NHS reforms.
In an unusual move, the three magazine's - the British Medical Journal, Health Service Journal and Nursing Times - published the same editorial, warning that flaws in the "bloated and opaque" Health and Social Care Bill would leave the NHS needing yet another overhaul within five years.
Separately, the BMJ published research suggesting that ditching Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's bill now could save the NHS more than £1 billion in 2013.
The three journals called on Parliament to establish an independently-appointed standing commission to initiate "a mature and informed national discussion on the future of our national health system" and ensure that there is no repeat of Mr Lansley's "ideological and incompetent" attempt at reform.
While accepting that health professional groups differ in their stance on the bill, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee, HSJ editor Alastair McLellan and Nursing Times editor Jenni Middleton said that there could be no doubting the "overwhelming sense of distress and lack of confidence in the government's plans among those who must deliver the service".
They wrote: "Through a combination of poor political judgment and reluctance to engage with criticism, a set of (mostly) reasonable objectives morphed into an old-fashioned top-down reorganisation.
"It also resulted in a bloated and opaque piece of legislation, whose goals could have largely been achieved by other, more effective, means".
Once the bill becomes law, "we will still be in the dark about how much of the new system will work", they said, adding: "We will have an unstable system that is only partially fit for purpose".
And they predicted: "Another major NHS reform programme is guaranteed within five years".
"The NHS is far too important to be left at the mercy of ideological and incompetent intervention," said the joint editorial. "Let us try to salvage some good from this damaging upheaval and resolve never to repeat it."
Writing separately in the BMJ, the Professor of Health Policy and Management at Manchester Business School, Kieran Walshe, said that dropping the bill now would save just over £1 billion in 2013 and would allow NHS organisations to focus on improving efficiency and productivity.
Ministers could then "plan to accomplish much of their intended reform agenda - greater patient choice, more GP involvement in commissioning, increased plurality and competition in healthcare provision - using existing legislative provisions," said Prof Walshe.
"And the NHS could get on with delivering healthcare to patients, and the serious business of finding ways to do more with less."
Responding to the joint editorial, a Department of Health spokesman said: "Our reforms are based on what NHS staff themselves have consistently said - they want more freedom from day-to-day bureaucracy and political interference so they can get on with the job of caring for patients.
"That is exactly what this bill achieves.
"Through the independent NHS Future Forum, we have already had hundreds of meetings, discussions and public debates with thousands of people on the future of the health service. To start this process again would undermine the development of clinical commissioning and prevent healthcare professionals taking decisions in the interests of their patients.
"The Future Forum demonstrated widespread agreement with the principles of change and GPs themselves have written to newspapers to express their support.
"It's completely untrue to suggest that dropping the Bill would save the NHS money. Our plans will reduce needless bureaucracy by a third and save £4.5 billion over the course of this Parliament and £1.5 billion every year afterwards.
"Every penny saved will be reinvested in frontline care for patients."
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "The chorus of protest against David Cameron and Andrew Lansley's ill-conceived plans for the NHS grows louder by the day, uniting voices across the health world.
"This is a powerful and scathing critique of the Government's handling of its NHS re-organisation from three of the most respected voices in healthcare.
"It reflects the strength of feeling in the health professions and echoes the widely-held view that this bill is unnecessary and a distraction from the financial challenge facing the NHS."