Intended for healthcare professionals


How the secretary of state for health proposes to abolish the NHS in England

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 22 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1695
  1. Allyson M Pollock, professor ,
  2. David Price, senior research fellow
  1. 1Centre for Health Sciences, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary’s College, University of London, London E1 2AT, UK
  1. Correspondence to: A M Pollock allyson.pollock{at}
  • Accepted 9 March 2011

Allyson Pollock and David Price examine the proposed statutory changes to the NHS and raise concerns that the government’s role could be reduced to that of payer

The coalition government’s Health and Social Care Bill 2010-11 heralds the most controversial reform in the history of the NHS in England.1 2 3 The government plans to replace the NHS system of public funding and mainly public provision and public administration with a competitive market of corporate providers in which government finances but does not provide healthcare.4

Primary care trusts and strategic health authorities are to be abolished and replaced by general practice commissioning consortiums, which all practices must join. As incorporated bodies, consortiums will not be directly controlled by the secretary of state for health and may enter into commercial contracts with “any willing provider” for all health services and will set terms and conditions of staff. They will have extraordinary discretionary powers to define entitlement to NHS provision and charge patients. Direct management and control of NHS providers will cease as foundation trust status becomes mandatory for all trusts. Provider regulation will be overseen by a market regulator, Monitor.

Since 1948 the government has had a duty to provide comprehensive healthcare free at the point of delivery. This duty is underpinned by structures, systems, and mechanisms that promote fairness and efficiency in resource allocation and facilitate planning of services according to geographical healthcare needs through risk pooling and service integration. These mechanisms have been eroded by a succession of major regulatory changes, including revision of funding and responsibility for provision of long term care; creation of an internal market; introduction of private providers and capital through the private finance initiative, independent treatment centres, foundation trusts, and the 2004 general practice contract; and creation of a tariff system of …

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