Giant unions unite to stop government white paper’s NHS reforms

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 13 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5035
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. 1London

    Ten of the United Kingdom’s largest trade unions have launched a joint campaign to stop what they describe as the coalition government’s “controversial” health white paper Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS.

    Unions representing around four million workers, including Unison, Unite, and the GMB, have come together with grassroots health campaigners and patients’ groups in a coordinated move against the new reforms, which were unveiled in July.

    Organised by the NHS Support Federation, an independent pressure group that aims to protect and promote the NHS, the campaign warned in its launch statement that the NHS was under threat. The campaign aims to mobilise NHS staff and patients against the white paper to exert pressure on MPs before a health bill is put to parliament.

    A joint statement from the unions, which also has the backing of groups such as the NHS Consultants’ Association and the pressure group Keep Our NHS Public, says: “Patients will see their local GP services taken over by profit-led companies and lose the personal contact with a GP.

    “All hospitals are being turned into independent businesses and will be free to offer priority care to patients who can afford to pay—a return to wealth-based healthcare.

    “The NHS is already making £20bn [€24bn; $31bn] of tough savings. So when jobs and services are under threat and waiting lists likely to rise, why waste further precious funds on the NHS market.”

    The statement further said, “It has also been estimated that the reorganisation itself will cost up to £3bn”—a reference to an editorial by Kieran Walshe, professor of health policy and management at Manchester Business School, published in the BMJ in July (2010;341:c3843, doi:10.1136/bmj.c3843).

    Paul Evans, director of the NHS Support Federation, said, “The white paper is the most extreme reorganisation of the health service since it was founded in 1948 but was not mentioned in either the Conservative or Lib Dem manifestos.

    “The public are not being given the chance to say no and don’t realise how far the reforms will go.”

    The move comes after Unison’s decision last month to take legal action against the health secretary for England, Andrew Lansley, challenging his refusal to consult the public on proposals in the white paper (BMJ 2010;341:c4716, 27 Aug, doi:10.1136/bmj.c4716).

    Unison said that the day after the white paper was published the chief executive of the NHS in England, David Nicholson, wrote to all NHS chief executives instructing them to start implementing the proposals “immediately,” something that Unison claimed was unlawful to do.

    The Royal College of General Practitioners has also raised several concerns over the white paper. It said that GPs were worried about the pace and cost of change outlined in the government’s plans. These views had emerged during the college’s discussions of the white paper with its members across the UK over the past six weeks.

    Other worries raised by doctors were the possible disruption to existing management structures and to relationships in local health communities where good practice already existed and the growing role of commercial organisations in the provision of care.

    At a meeting on 10 September the college’s council did, however, welcome the opportunity to discuss and shape future government policy in consultation and said it was pleased that the white paper emphasised clinical leadership and the central role of GPs in the future NHS.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5035


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