Like a series of explosions on a delay button, so the professional organisations spoke out against the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill in the third week of January. Professional leaders who had worked with the government during the “listening exercise” moved to a position of total opposition and presented their case in the starkest terms.
First the GPs, the professional group supposedly leading Lansley’s reforms. In an on-line poll of doctors, 1,900 out of 2,600 respondents said it was appropriate to pull the legislation even as it wends its way through the House of Lords. When asked if the Royal College of GPs, which represents 44,000 doctors, should call for the bill to be withdrawn jointly with other medical royal colleges, more than 98 per cent of respondents said they “strongly support” or “support” such an action.
The British Medical Association council voted to oppose the bill “in its entirety”, telling their members that “chaotic changes and hastily-developed guidance … appear to be risking the ability of healthcare professionals to lead on commissioning services.”
Then the Royal College of Nursing, which for a year and a half has entered into discussion about the reforms, declared it found itself “with no other option than to adopt a position of outright opposition to the Health and Social Care Bill”.
At the committee stage of the bill in the House of Lords the RCN worked with Baroness Emerton to lay amendments that would mandate safe staffing levels for nurses and regulation of Healthcare Support Workers. The government rejected these important safeguards and the amendments had to be withdrawn. The RCN also said it was increasingly concerned about “the hitherto unknown consequences of EU competition law, with a real worry that NHS funds will be diverted from funding care to fighting costly law suits.”
Cathy Warwick of the Royal College of Midwives put their position succinctly: “Breaking up what we have, embracing the private sector, and injecting full-blown competition and market forces is 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 We join the growing chorus of voices calling for the bill to be withdrawn, and the proposed reforms stopped in their entirety.”
Then on the NHS Managers.net, a senior manager wrote in his blog that NHS managers do not want this and said “they are scared they are being asked to deliver the undeliverable. They are seeing chaos, dissonance, conflict. They are watching the system being ripped-off and are unable to stop it.”
On 8 February the report stage in the House of Lords begins. This could be the last time the Lords discuss the NHS plans in detail. Yet this Bill will not be killed in the Lords but by the people, if they so decide. Every worker has been told – the stakes are very high. ■