Doctors to launch public campaign against proposed NHS reforms

BMA votes to reject idea that changes to health and social care bill will reduce the risk of privatisation of the health service

Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, Guardian Wednesday 20 July 2011

The government faces a summer of discontent over its NHS reforms after doctors voted to launch a public campaign against the health bill, and one of the UK’s internet campaign groups raised £10,000 in three hours after emailing members to pay for expert legal advice over the bill.

The British Medical Association’s council, the executive committee of the union, voted to pass a series of motions critical of the government’s bill – and crucially accepted that doctors “start a public campaign to call for the withdrawal of the health and social care bill”.

Put forward by NHS consultants Clive Peedell and Jacky Davis, the motion will ratchet up the pressure on ministers over the summer break who had hoped that the bill’s third reading in early September would be an easy ride.

The BMA, which represents 140,000 doctors, voted to “reject the idea that the government’s proposed changes to the bill will significantly reduce the risk of further marketisation and privatisation of the NHS” and “agreed that the government is misleading the public by repeatedly stating that there will be ‘no privatisation of the NHS’”.

Dr 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widespread feeling that the proposed legislation is hopelessly complex, and it really would be better if the bill were withdrawn.”

His colleague on the council Dr Peedell said that the health bill was “just a privatisation bill with a third of it devoted to [producing] an economic regulated market”.

To underline that the government’s attempts to dissipate professional and public anger – such as the legislative pause – have had little effect, internet campaigners at 38 Degrees, which has 850,000 members in the UK, claimed to have raised cash at the rate of £56 a minute via an email marketing campaign on Wednesday.

The money will be used to get lawyers to comb through the 180 amendments produced by the government when it re-submitted the bill for its second reading earlier this month.

“38 Degrees members want to cut through the tangled web of amendments which make up Andrew Lansley‘s re-written NHS plans. So we’re chipping in to hire legal experts to go through them with a fine tooth comb,” said the organisation’s executive director, David Babbs. “We’re concerned that real threats to our NHS may still lurk behind Lansley and [David] Cameron’s warm words. Are we on a slippery slope to the NHS being broken up by EU competition laws? Why does Lansley seem to be watering down his legal duty to provide a national health service?”

Labour’s John Healey pounced on the news of opposition to the bill. “Despite David Cameron‘s promises, his health bill changes are a bureaucratic mess, not a proper plan for improving patient care. Now people are realising that despite the ‘pause’, the wasteful and unnecessary reorganisation is going ahead and the long-term Tory plans to break up the NHS remain intact.”

The Department of Health said: “We will never privatise the NHS. The BMA’s position is disappointing because previously the doctors’ union said there was much in our response to the listening exercise that addressed their concerns, and that many of the principles outlined reflected changes they had called for.

The independent NHS Future Forum confirmed there is widespread support for the principles of our plans to modernise the NHS, including handing more control to doctors, nurses and frontline professionals.

Patients will never have to pay for NHS care. The bill has changed substantially since the BMA first voted to oppose government policy. Our plans have been greatly strengthened in order to improve care for patients and safeguard the future of the NHS.”