Government “conned” us over health reforms say Hackney GPs

Hackney GPs have accused the government of “conning” them when it promised to award them greater power to deliver a better service for patients under new healthcare reforms.

Hackney GPs have accused the government of “conning” them when it promised to award them greater power to deliver a better service for patients under new healthcare reforms.

Last year, the then health secretary, Andrew Lansley, wrote to leaders of the prospective Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) stating the government would hold true their word to give GPs, as heads of the CCGs, the “powers and freedoms in order to deliver better services for patients” through the Health and Social Care Act.

“I know many of you may have read that you will be forced to fragment services, or put services out to tender,” he said.

“This is absolutely not the case.”

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He continued: “It is a fundamental principle of the Bill that you as commissioners, not the Secretary of State and not regulators, should decide when and how competition should be used to serve your patients’ interests.”

GPs are now wondering why a decision was then made to scupper their bid to run the out-of-hours service in the borough just seven weeks before the go-live date on April 2.

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Every Hackney GP was involved in two-year talks with NHS North East London and the City to take the service back in house as a social enterprise.

But the primary care trust, which is due to be disbanded on April 2 when new the CCGs are introduced, decided private healthcare company Harmoni would continue to provide the service for another nine months rather than face legal challenge by firms for unfair competition.

GPs, who raised concerns over the level of care provided by Harmoni, had been led to believe the contract would be awarded to them on the principle of “local services for local people”.

Hackney GP Nick Mann said the move clearly contradicted Mr Lansley’s letter and that GPs had been “conned”.

“Andrew Lansley’s letter is misleading, it’s possibly dishonest” he said. “We’ve got a perfectly viable social enterprise, but there’s some other force working beneath the transparent and accountable process that we were lead to believe would happen when we adopted commissioning – they are pulling the rug from beneath our feet.

“The Health and Social Care Bill was just a tool to provide a framework for corporations to take over the NHS. That’s exactly what they are doing.”

A Department of Health spokesman said it would expect commissioners to secure services from providers offering best value for money. “The local NHS, with its knowledge of its local population, should decide how best to secure health services for its patients and procurement process must always be fair and transparent,” she said.

Harmoni, which has been running the out-of-hours service for the last five years, was attacked in December by doctors who alleged that the firm’s cost-cutting has caused staff retention problems, shortages of clinical staff, and unsafe working practices.

Harmoni rejected the claims.

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