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A bold plan to fight NHS privatisation

The BMA is looking at an audacious public campaign to help patients opt out of NHS care run by the private sector

For those embracing GP commissioning, last week saw a significant milestone as PCTs began to pass over operational responsibility, ahead of the handover to CCGs next April. The transition is already under way.

But those less enamoured of the NHS reforms are in disarray. With thousands of practices now signed up to CCG constitutions, any kind of commissioning boycott seems increasingly unlikely. The Labour party may have pledged to repeal the health act, but no one seems quite sure what that would entail. New BMA chair Dr Mark Porter suggests in his interview with Pulse this week that even if the act were to be repealed, ripping apart CCGs could cause ‘even more damage’.

Instead, opponents of the reforms are looking for new battlegrounds, and adopting guerrilla tactics, floating the possibility of the BMA leading an audacious public campaign to help patients opt out of NHS care run by the private sector.

There are huge questions over how such a plan would work. Can patients really make an informed decision now about their future care? Would a significant number of patients really choose to limit their own treatment options?

And what about the politics of adopting a campaign first launched by the unashamedly vocal pressure group Keep Our NHS Public?  The BMA rightly steers clear of anything that could be perceived as party political. Helping your members code patients’ opposition to the expansion of private sector treatment on their medical records is as provocative as it gets.

But the idea is not without merit. It would be relatively cheap to run and easy to sell to patients. Whether it will have any significant impact on private sector inroads into NHS care remains to be seen, but the campaign would at least have a concrete objective beyond garnering publicity.

Above all, there is the appealing, irrefutable logic of basing an anti-privatisation campaign on a patient’s right to choose. A campaign that turns the choice agenda against the private sector is likely to enjoy much wider support from the profession than a blanket opt-out from commissioning.

For now, the campaign remains an outside bet. But if the BMA is serious about making its voice heard, and wants to move its opposition to NHS privatisation beyond last year’s tired ‘kill-the-bill’ narrative, this just might be the way to do it.


Pulse goes Live

Pulse now supports GPs in more ways than ever – in print, with our newly upgraded website, by email and with our educational seminars – and this week we launch our most ambitious project yet.

Pulse Live is a two-day annual conference for GPs and practice managers, showcasing the best of everything Pulse does. The programme will cover practice business and finance skills, clinical updates on a wide range of conditions and practical advice and debate on the future of general practice.

Pulse Live is free to GPs and practice managers registered with PulseToday who book before the end of the year, and will take place in Birmingham on 30 April and 1 May. Book your place at

Readers' comments (7)

  • Vinci Ho

    Dear Editor,
    This is the first time I can remember BMA plays the card of politicising a major health issue in recent time. Read all the comments under the article today . There are mixed feelings and this also takes GPs out of their comfort zone into the unknown territory of politics.Hero or zero , critical time for BMA.........

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  • Many GPs opposed the Health and Social Care Bill. They are not "signing up for CCGs" with any enthusiasm - they ahve to as it will be a contractual obligation come April 2013. Many GPs are still extremely concerned about the Act's effects, especially how it may damage local NHS services that their patients rely on. The patient pledge card is not really all that "political" - it is simply using the government's choice rhetoric to empower patients to declare their preference for NHS providers, where appropriate and desired. We already have to talk to patients about options for referral - and more so as AQP kicks in - so this card is a way for patients to indicate to their GP that they want to know if its a private company behind the NHS logo, or an NHS provider.

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  • Does this mean that the BMA will be encouraging patients not to use GP Practices as they are all private contractors?

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  • The proposed action smacks of the worst form of anti competitive behaviour - existing monopoly suppliers blatently trying to protect their vested interest regardless of what might be best for the patient. Only the GP knows best and the patient is incapable of making choices

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  • Ridiculous. As an NHS GP I am a private provider-I am insulted.

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  • What would happen to NHS waiting times without the additional capacity offered by the independent sector? Resources are ridiculously stretched at it is and substantial cuts still have to be made to achieve efficiency savings.

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  • Interesting development. Presumably the next BMA motion will be for all GPs to be employed by the NHS rather than to continue to work as private contractors to the NHS?

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