Groups of GPs covering more than half the population of England have volunteered to take on new commissioning powers prior to the Government’s radical shake-up of the NHS, it has been revealed.
The announcement was made as a report by NHS leaders warned that the “extraordinarily risky” reforms may fail if they are not enthusiastically embraced by GPs.
The NHS Confederation paper described Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s plan to hand GPs in England the power to commission £80 billion of treatment for patients – 80% of the entire health service budget – as “undoubtedly the biggest shake-up of the NHS in its history”.
Unless large numbers of GPs get actively involved in the new system and engage in the strategic challenges of changing their local health services, there is a danger of “potentially overwhelming” pressures leading to “widespread financial problems… sub-optimal performance and longer waiting times”, it warned.
In a speech on Monday, Prime Minister David Cameron will announce that a further 89 GP groups serving 28.6 million people have put themselves forward as “pathfinders” to pilot the new arrangements, bringing the total number of consortia to 141. Mr Cameron is expected to welcome the “groundswell of support from general practices that are now at the vanguard of modernising our NHS”, said the Department of Health.
But shadow health secretary John Healey said that the NHS Confederation report was a “big red warning light” of the dangers of the reorganisation plans, which he described as “a cocktail of instability and uncertainty laced with broken promises”.
Monday’s paper reports the conclusions of a summit of healthcare managers, doctors’ leaders, patients groups and policy experts who met last November to discuss the implications of Mr Lansley’s proposals. Those taking part agreed that the reforms could produce “some very beneficial effects for patients and population health”, but warned that ministers had “systematically under-estimated the very significant cultural and behavioural changes required, in particular from GPs”.
Implementing the changes at a time when management resources are being cut by 45% and the NHS as a whole is facing its toughest financial climate for many years was “extraordinarily risky”.
NHS Confederation acting chief executive Nigel Edwards said the organisation backs the objectives of Mr Lansley’s reforms, but believes it is vital to analyse and manage potential risks.
He said: “We see real potential benefits in both moving decision-making closer to GPs and in extending the range of providers in order to drive efficiency and innovation.”