UNISON, the UK’s largest public sector union, yesterday raised concerns over the consequences of introducing individual budgets outlined in yesterday’s ‘Primary and Community Care’ report.
Karen Jennings, UNISON Head of Health said: ‘We believe that patients should have a greater say in their treatment and greater access to information about their care plans, but using individual budgets is not the way forward.
‘There is a real danger that these budgets will pave the way towards means-testing and undermine the very principle of care being free at the point of need.’
UNISON also expressed concern over the impact that privatisation schemes will have on staff.
Jennings warned against the government’s proposed Social Enterprises.
She said: ‘It is clear that the government wants to give them extra impetus and have incentivised them by guaranteeing pensions in line with UNISON’s staff passport proposals.
‘However, the Independent Sector will not have the Pensions guarantee which means that the pension right of staff transferring may be damaged.
‘Social Enterprises are likely to be fragile organisations and subject to predatory takeover by the private sector – and staff would then lose their pensions guarantee.’
She added: ‘UNISON is also concerned that there will be long-term wrangling around the awarding of contracts to social enterprises.
‘The Cooperation and Competition Board is being set up to hear from private companies that feel they have not been treated fairly in the tendering process and this is the first step to opening the door to the private sector.’
Despite its concerns, the union welcomed ‘the drive towards transferring care and resources to community settings and to promote quality alongside the wide-ranging consultation’.
The British Medical Association said that previously announced government proposals will ‘undermine the positive in this report’.
Dr Laurence Buckman, Chairman of the BMA’s GP Committee warned: ‘Unfortunately the government’s recent behaviour towards GPs has destroyed any trust they had in the government’s ability to run the NHS.
‘GPs are a key part of the health workforce and rather than taking petty public swipes at family doctors as (health minister) Ben Bradshaw has done, the government would be much better off working with us rather than against us.
‘We want to see general practice be the best it can be for patients.
‘While we welcome the good notions in this report, we are still to be convinced that previous government announcements, and by that I mean the polyclinic agenda, will do anything other than damage general practice and continuity of care for patients.
‘Choice of a GP is a good thing for patients, but unnecessary and potentially destructive competition ends up wasting NHS resources.
‘We know every Primary Care Trust has to build a “GP-led health centre” or “polyclinic” if they want any new money to invest in primary care.
‘GPs and the one and a quarter million patients who signed our petition want to know why that money can’t be used to improve existing practices.
‘Lack of investment is the reason why patients in some areas have trouble registering with new surgeries.
‘A practice may be full to bursting but when they ask the local Primary Care Trust for money to expand they’re told there is none.’