The Government has said a patient-centred NHS is a “step closer to reality” as it published its plans for a radical overhaul of the health service.
The Health and Social Care Bill will see all 152 of England’s primary care trusts (PCTs) scrapped alongside 10 strategic health authorities, leading to the predicted loss of 24,500 jobs. Almost 21,000 of these losses will be through redundancy while the rest involve people leaving the service or retiring.
GPs will be given around 80% of the NHS budget – currently topping £100 billion a year – to commission services for patients. A new NHS commissioning board will oversee this process and new “health and wellbeing” boards are being created.
But the plans have come under fierce attack from health unions and doctors’ leaders worried that the reforms are “too much too soon”.
The cost of implementing the changes is £1.4 billion but Health Secretary Andrew Lansley insists they will save the NHS more than £5 billion by 2014/15 and £1.7 billion every year thereafter.
Mr Lansley said: “Modernising the NHS is a necessity, not an option – in order to meet rising need in the future, we need to make changes.
“We need to take steps to improve health outcomes, bringing them up to the standards of the best international healthcare systems and to bring down the NHS money spent on drugs.
“This legislation will deliver changes that will improve outcomes for patients and save the NHS £1.7 billion every year – money that will be reinvested into services for patients.”
The proposals prompted a fierce exchange in the House of Commons with Labour leader Ed Miliband accusing Prime Minister David Cameron of being “arrogant” for pressing ahead with them despite warnings from unions and health experts.
Mr Miliband said: “Patients are worried. Doctors and nurses say your reforms are extremely risky and potentially disastrous. Why are you so arrogant to think you are right and all of the people who say you are wrong are wrong?”