Watching the progress and witnessing the government’s first defeat on its highly contentious plans to reform the health service, just a few hours after the Prime Minister mounted a passionate defence of the shake-up to the NHS, reminded me of a patient being diagnosed, operated on, discharged and then readmitted for the same condition!
With all the changes and opportunities that previous governments have experienced, the sad reality is that the health service, as it currently exists, is simply unsustainable. Spiraling costs in health and social care provision, due to extended life expectancy, being just one of the reasons as to why this is the case.
So is the bill good for us and should we just put up with the bitter pill in the short term? Perhaps it is just that the communication of the benefits has been poor or maybe it is a case of knowing we have to do something but this is all too much at a time when there are so many other financial restrictions.
The editorial simultaneously published by the BMJ, Health Service Journal and Nursing Times last week says that we shouldn’t accept the bill. It says: “the resulting upheaval has been unnecessary, poorly conceived, badly communicated, and a dangerous distraction at a time when the NHS is required to make unprecedented savings.” The publications suggest that parliament should establish an independently appointed standing commission “to initiate a mature and informed national discussion on the future of our national health system”.
So as the passage of the bill has been battling against ill winds, the focus is now on Andrew Lansley who has been widely criticised for its handling.
A No 10 source was quoted in The Times saying: “Andrew Lansley should be taken out and shot. He’s messed up both the communication and the substance of the policy.”
And so, the bill returns to the Lords, where it faces a mauling by peers despite the Government already making a string of concessions.
Lansley says the reforms will improve patient care, make services more accountable and cut bureaucracy. The changes will hand GPs greater control over the £60 billion budget to commission services and allow the private sector to play a larger role.
Health minister Simon Burns defended the reforms, saying: “By handing responsibility for purchasing services to doctors and nurses, we are shifting decision-making closer to patients and building on the trusted role GPs play throughout the NHS.”
He added: “I have met GPs in London who are looking forward to being able to commission services for their patients.”
However, it’s questionable whether those same GPs at the heart of the government’s policy, will feel it is most unjust if they are blamed for the potential failure of our local hospitals due to the enormous challenges that they face.