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70 CCGs to back letter of support for health bill

Exclusive Dozens of CCG leaders are to hit back at calls from fellow commissioning GPs for the health bill to be dropped, backing a joint letter warning that abandoning the bill now would be a ‘disaster’.

Tower Hamlets CCG and City and Hackney CCG have piled pressure on the Government this week by writing to the Prime Minister to ask for the withdrawal of the bill, citing anger among their GP members that their enthusiasm for commissioning has been used to demonstrate political support for the bill as a whole.

The move suggested support for the reforms was draining even amongst commissioning enthusiasts, with Labour leader Ed Miliband accusing Prime Minister David Cameron of losing the confidence of the very people supposed to be implementing the bill during Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday.

But a letter backed by up to 70 CCGs – submitted for publication in The Times tomorrow – advises the Government not to water down the reforms, and calls on professional bodies to engage more with CCG chairs to canvass their views of how commissioning is working on the ground. 

The letter’s original author Dr Paul Bowen, chair of Eastern Cheshire CCG, told Pulse he had circulated it among commissioning colleagues and received replies of support from 70 CCGs, and said he believed there was ‘a silent majority’ whose voices were not being heard.

In a dispatch to CCG members calling for support for the letter, Dr Bowen insisted that he had ‘no political allegiances or agenda’, but said he had tabled the latter to ‘balance some of the negative media about the subject’.

The letter, obtained by Pulse, says: ‘Since the Health and Social Care Bill was announced, we have personally seen more collaboration, enthusiasm and accepted responsibility from our GP colleagues, engaged patients and other NHS leaders than through previous “NHS re-organisations”, and feel that if certain elements of the bill are watered down we may not achieve the significant evolutionary change required to bring the NHS into the 21st century.’

The letter said the Government was right to ‘listen to the concerns raised by our professional bodies’ such as the BMA and RCGP, but advised those bodies to ‘learn from the positive experiences of CCG leads to find a workable solution’.

‘We feel that totally abandoning the bill at this advanced stage would undo some very promising work in our communities,’ it reads.

‘In our experience, we believe the Government has listened to the public and profession to alter the bill from its original draft. We hope and expect that concerns and ideas raised by our professional bodies around training, conflicts of interest, the role of the GP as the patient’s advocate, and the appropriate role of competition, the private sector and choice, are addressed adequately as this bill passes through the Lords.

‘However, putting clinicians in control of commissioning has allowed us to concentrate on outcomes through improving quality, innovation and prevention – a task that, whilst possible, would have been difficult in the old “managerially-run” system when such huge efficiency savings need to be made.’

Dr Bowen told Pulse: ‘I have no intention of waving any political flag, but there is a lot of anger among some CCG members that our voice is not being heard. I have had replies from 70 CCGs – there is potentially a silent majority who have got our heads down.’

‘Professional organisations are not coming directly to CCG chairs. We are asking people like the RCGP and BMA to engage with us.’

Dr Bowen said many CCGs ‘wanted the wording of the letter to be tougher’, but said he personally believed amendments were still needed on the identified areas before it could be passed.

But he said he firmly believed the bill should not be thrown out. ‘I think if they lost the momentum and passion currently out there from engaged clinicians who want to lead, then that would be a disaster. I think it is extremely important that CCGs have their voices heard.’