The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) yesterday moved to oppose the Health and Social Care Bill, arguing that serious concerns have not been addressed during the parliamentary process, listening exercise or political engagement.
The nurses’ union said in a statement: ‘The RCN, which had not previously opposed the bill as a whole, has taken this decision at this point arguing that the proposals will not deliver on the principles originally set out, and that recent announcements such as the rise in the cap on private patients being treated in NHS hospitals to almost half (49 per cent) make the bill in its entirety a serious threat to the NHS.’
RCN General Secretary Dr Peter Carter said: ‘We have sought a range of assurances, but now feel that the reforms as they stand could have the opposite effect from that which was intended.
‘These root and branch reforms are pressing ahead in tandem with the “Nicholson challenge”, which requires the NHS to save £20 billion in England alone by 2014.
‘The RCN has been on record as saying that withdrawing the bill would create confusion and turmoil, however, on the ground, we believe that the turmoil of proceeding with these reforms is now greater than the turmoil of stopping them.
‘The sheer scale of member concerns, which have been building over recent weeks, has led us to conclude that the consequences of the bill may be entirely different from the principles which were originally set out.
‘The RCN feels that these concerns are so fundamental that we must now oppose the Health and Social Care Bill.
‘Our Frontline First campaign has shown that cuts are being made, 48,000 in England alone at the last count, and patient care is undoubtedly being put in jeopardy.’
He added: ‘Most recently, the announcement that the cap for private income would be 49% has left nurses with real fears that the needs of the market could come ahead of the needs of patients.’
Dr Carter concluded that ‘our overall view is that the bill as a whole risks damaging the NHS which our members work hard to build and to support.
‘In combination with the financial pressures all Trusts are facing, and with the rising public health challenge of the coming years, we fear the NHS is now facing a very bleak future.’
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) is also calling for the NHS Health and Social Care Bill to be scrapped.
RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick said: ‘This bill is a massively expensive distraction from the challenges that the NHS faces in trying to improve healthcare at a time of severe spending restraint.’
She added: ‘Independent analysts have calculated that implementing the provisions in the bill will cost the NHS an extra £2 billion to £3 billion on top of the £20 billion in efficiency savings the NHS has to find in the next four years.’
Warwick warned: ‘Breaking up what we have, embracing the private sector, and injecting full-blown competition and market forces are not what the NHS needs or what health professionals and patients want.
‘We join the growing chorus of voices calling for the bill to be withdrawn, and the proposed reforms stopped in their entirety.’
Unison Head of Health, Christina McAnea said: ‘We welcome the RCN and RCM’s opposition of the Health Bill.
‘We have been campaigning for this deadweight bill to be dropped since its launch and this support can only strengthen our campaign.
‘Nurses, midwives, professional bodies and patients are all warning that this bill is a danger to the NHS as we know it.
‘This bill will lead to fragmentation, instability and inequity in the NHS. It is wasting billions of taxpayers’ money in pointless bureaucracy, as health workers lose their jobs, waiting lists grow, and operations are cancelled.
‘The government’s plans are fatally flawed. They must listen to hard-working NHS staff and we will fight to protect this national treasure and one of the most cost effective systems in the developed world.’