MORE PRIVATISATION THREAT TO NHS – warn MPs

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Health unions yesterday welcomed MPs’ condemnation of the government’s plans to break up and privatise primary care services.

A report published by the House of Commons health select committee yesterday said the ‘perpetual change is ill-judged’ and bad for patient care.

MPs express concern that the changes encourage privatisation, warning that GP commissioning will introduce ‘perverse incentives’ that could threaten access to health care.

The report urges the government to fully declare its intentions before ‘Practice Based Commissioning is universally implemented next December’.

It added there was no case for halving the number of Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and cutting the number of health authorities.

The report concluded: ‘PCTs are currently responsible for spending 80 per cent of the NHS’s £76 billion budget.

‘At a time when PCTs’ commissioning role is crucial to the success of the NHS, it is a false economy to deplete the NHS’s managerial resources still further in an attempt to save only a fraction of that total amount.’

MPs expressed concern over the government’s plans to turn Primary Care Trusts into bodies that merely contract out the health services that they currently provide.

MPs said that NHS professionals had warned them that contracting out services would lead to the break-up of the NHS and make continuity of patient care ‘even harder to deliver.’

Slamming the lack of consultation, it added: ‘We were extremely concerned at evidence we received about proposals to tender out the commissioning function in Oxfordshire before the new PCT Board has even been appointed.’

Public sector union UNISON welcomed the report’s recommendation that the Department of Health ‘must more carefully consider the impact of its proposals on its staff, which are its most valuable asset.’

Mps were also concerned that government ministers could not give assurances that ‘NHS staff who are transferred to other providers, particularly in the private sector, as a result of these changes will be able to retain their NHS pensions.’

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said yesterday: ‘It’s a disgrace that health visitors, community midwives, occupational therapists, district nurses – the backbone of our local community services – are threatened with transfer to the private sector.

‘Booted out and left to the vagaries of the market.’

The British Medical Association said the report ‘reflects many of the BMA’s concerns about the latest proposed reforms to Primary Care Trusts’.

A BMA spokesman commented: ‘The health service is already busy delivering huge changes – the last thing managers need is further distraction.

‘These proposals couldn’t have come at a worse time.’

Dr Beverly Malone, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing said: ‘RCN evidence also shows constant change is destabilising, affects morale, and the ability of the NHS to recruit and retain staff.

‘There remains a problem with nurse shortages and the government’s proposals risk making the difficulties worse, potentially affecting patient care.

‘We agree with the committee’s view that the consultation process on PCT reform should be full, fair and inclusive; and we share its concern about the potentially negative impact on healthcare of contracting out PCT provider services to the private and voluntary sectors.’