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Dropping the Health Bill ‘will save the NHS £1bn’

31 January 2012

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Another major NHS reform programme is “guaranteed within five years” should the Health Bill become law, it is warned.

The editors of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), the Health Service Journal (HSJ) and Nursing Times have joined forces to criticise the government over its “poor political judgement” and “reluctance to engage with criticism”.

The joint editorial describes the bill as a “bloated and opaque piece of legislation, whose goals could have largely been achieved by other, more effective means.”

Even if the bill is passed, it is predicted clinicians will remain in the dark about how much of the new system will work and will struggle to manage in an “unstable system that is only partially fit for purpose”.

The editors have called upon parliament to establish an independent standing commission to initiate public debate and “salvage some good” from the government’s “damaging reforms.”

In response to the editorial, Victoria Vaughan, editor of GP Business said: “While the criticisms about the government’s timing and execution are valid, the Health Bill will allow GPs to be better utilised in the commissioning process. Continued arguments about the bill will stall the real progress made in clinical commissioning which should eventually save money and make the NHS sustainable.”

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has renewed his offer to work with the government to introduce GP-led commissioning on the condition it drops its “unnecessary” Health Bill.

“This is a powerful and scathing critique of the Government’s handling of its NHS reorganisation…[and] reflects the strength of feeling in the health professions, echoing the widely-held that this Bill is unnecessary and a distraction from the financial challenge facing the NHS,” he said.

“It is simply unforgivable to spend billions on back-office restructuring when the NHS needs every penny to maintain standards of patient care.”

In a second editorial published in the BMJ, Kieran Walshe, Professor of Health Policy and Management at Manchester Business School, said abandoning the Health Bill now will save just over £1bn in 2013.

“[In dropping the bill] the government could then plan to accomplish much of its intended reform agenda – greater patient choice, more GP involvement in commissioning, increased plurality and competition in healthcare provision – using existing legislative provisions,” he said.

“The NHS would then be free to get on with delivering healthcare to patients, and the serious business of finding ways to do more with less”.