BMA calls for amended health bill to be withdrawn

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 21 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4701
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1London

The BMA has said it will launch a public campaign to call for the withdrawal of the Health and Social Bill because of continuing concerns among doctors about key aspects of the changes planned for the health service despite amendments after the government’s listening exercise.

At a council meeting on 20 July the BMA rejected the idea that the government’s proposed changes to the bill will substantially reduce the risk of further marketisation and privatisation of the NHS. It said that the government was misleading the public by repeatedly stating that there will be no privatisation of the NHS.

In a statement issued after the meeting Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said: “Whilst the BMA recognises there have been some changes following the listening pause, there is widespread feeling that the proposed legislation is hopelessly complex, and it really would be better if the bill were withdrawn. We will continue to critically engage with government and with the parliamentary process to try to achieve this, whilst continuing to seek further amendments to the bill.”

A survey of 500 GPs conducted by the Royal College of General Practitioners after the government’s proposed amendments to the bill has found that 85% are still not reassured by the revisions. Half of the respondents either “strongly oppose” or “oppose” the amended bill, with only 25% saying they support it and only 4% lending strong support. Almost half of GPs do not believe the revised model of clinical commissioning groups will improve patient care, and 60% said they did not want to be involved in a commissioning group board.

At its meeting the BMA agreed that it will continue to oppose any bill that seeks to break down the NHS family and treat healthcare as a commodity to be bought and sold in a commercial market.

It called for assurances from the government that there will not be a substantial increase in commercial sector involvement in the NHS in the same way that there is a policy that schools should not make a profit. Services for the NHS should be provided by public bodies or organisations controlled by professionals who also practise in them, it said.

The council responded to an announcement by health secretary Andrew Lansley on 19 July that more patients should be given choice of where to have non-urgent treatment by saying that choice must not be prioritised over meeting needs, reducing inequalities, and optimising resources. It would like this prioritisation written into the legislation. Mr Lansley said that from April 2012 more patients should be able to choose from a range of qualified providers when they are referred, including from the NHS, independent, voluntary or third sector organisations (BMJ 2011;343:d4683, doi:10.1136/bmj.d4683).

On engaging with the government on issues of workforce and education, public health, and confidentiality the BMA said some progress had been made, but further work was needed, including writing the outcomes into legislation.

Commenting on the BMA’s stance Diane Abbott, the shadow health minister, said, “David Cameron’s NHS plan is really starting to unravel all over again. The government still have an NHS plan which no-one voted for, which some of the leading health organisations do not want, and which will divert billions of pounds away from patient care. The message is loud and clear: you cannot trust the Tories on the NHS.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4701