We report for you today again with a round-up of the week’s news on the health reforms. Cracks began to appear in the government’s legislation as they seemed forced to climbdown on price competition, while various Lib Dems appeared to mobilise against the Bill ahead of their party conference. For more details of the week’s NHS news, read on!
A climbdown on price competition was announced this week by Lansley and the government as the opposition forced guarantees that the Health Bill shall not allow providers to undercut one another on price. There appeared to be confusion about whether the Bill was even supposed to allow price competition in the first place, with strong assertions from Lansley that their plans had always been about “competition based on quality, not price” and that the amendments should “put our intentions beyond doubt”. Ministers promised to table amendments to the Bill in due course.
Conflict of interest
Further concerns were raised with the Bill this week as several investigations revealed the potential for conflicts of interest of GPs, how the reforms could damage the doctor-patient relationship, and how Big Business could cream profits from savings made by GP commissioning. Channel 4 released details of a document leaked to them anonymously that shows how Integrated Health Partners (IHP), a ‘managed care organisation’ who takes on the role of commissioning for GP consortia, as well as GPs could make a profit from savings on patient budgets:
“It talks about plans for five per cent cost savings from patient budgets, and that the less they spend, the more there is left over to share between them. It even proposes that in three to five years, the overall business should become profitable enough to attract City investors.”
What’s more, at this stage there’s nothing to stop GPs themselves from sitting on the Boards of these companies, representing a huge conflict of interest over patient care: doctors could outsource commissioning to the very companies they partly own. All of this is slightly more worrying considering the revelation this week in the Health Service Journal that previous GP commissioning profit has been spent not on patient services but on practice refurbishments such as waiting rooms, new floors and paint.
Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs likened the situation to “an MP expenses” sort of scandal and warned that there should be no question of doctors benefiting in a personal way.
You can read the response by IHP to these accusations here, or more detail about this conflict of interest in the Guardian’s article on GP conflict of interest in commissioning.
Lib Dem dissent over health reforms
Ahead of the Liberal Democrat party conference next weekend, pressure rose from backbench dissenters over the scale and speed of the NHS reforms. Dr Evan Harris, former MP and current vice-chair of the party’s federal policy committee disclosed that he shall table an amendement supported by Lady Williams opposing the “damaging and unjustified market-based approach” and stating their concerns that the Bill shall lead to widening health inequalities. Changes are sought including public deliberation of all commissioning decisions, restoration of the NHS as preferred provider, and for NHS commissioning to remain in the hands of public bodies and not private companies.
With even the Telegraph calling it now “wise” for the government to ditch its “unpopular reorganisation of the NHS” given current voter apathy to the coalition, there seems a chance further compromises may be forthcoming from the government.
And in other news
BMA members polled about the NHS reforms showed little support for the government’s policy: more than two thirds believed more commercial involvement will reduce the quality of NHS care.
Student journalists at the University of Nottingham joined the chorus of opposition to the reforms in an article spelling out the series of problems with Lansley’s reform plans. Grassroots activity seemed to flourish elsewhere with health workers taking to the streets in Canterbury protesting against NHS cuts.
Finally, statistical trickery seems particularly in vogue right now, with the coalition government having used questionable evidence to support their NHS reforms, but we never thought the Guardian would be hoodwinked along with the rest of the mainstream press. They reported this week that according to government ministers UK cancer survival rates are poor in comparison to our counterparts in Europe and abroad. In fact, as our letter in the Guardian in response states, current evidence shows decreasing cancer deaths every year since 1995 and significantly decreased waiting times for cancer care over that period, despite lower spending compared with other developed countries.
We should bring pressure on any media outfit that perpetuates the usage of biased or incorrect statistics, as they play right into the hands of those that seek the dismantling of the health service as we know it.
If you have any stories you would like to report on, or would like to get involved in any grassroots campaigning on the NHS for yourself, visit our Get In Touch page to contact us and find out more. Also, make sure to contact your Lib Dem MP or councillors ahead of their party conference this month to ask that they support policy amendments to oppose the health bill.