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BMA warns Government plans could put NHS on route to privatisation

The BMA has warned that NHS England plans to bring local health and social care services under one contract run the risk of privatising NHS services.

In its response to the Government consultation on the regulatory changes needed to implement the new ‘accountable care organisation’ (ACO) contract, the BMA has said ACOs ‘risk the potential for non-NHS providers taking over the provision of care for entire health economies’.

The proposed changes to regulations surrounding the ACO contract will allow GPs to return to their GMS or PMS contract after leaving an ACO.

However, Pulse has previously reported that the ACO contract, an updated ‘voluntary contract’, will force GPs to give up their patients should they decide to leave.

Furthermore, the contract says GPs will have to wait at least a year to leave any new ‘voluntary’ contract after giving notice of their decision to do so.

But the BMA has said ACOs are not necessary to improve integration, while ten-year contracts would ‘create significant uncertainty’.

The response added: ‘The BMA strongly supports the ongoing provision of a publicly funded and publicly provided NHS, and calls for the Government to clarify what safeguards will be in place to ensure that ACOs do not enable an increase in the role of independent sector providers in the NHS.’

This comes as solicitors representing four senior health professionals: Dr Colin Hutchinson, Professor Allyson Pollock, Professor Sue Richards and Dr Graham Winyard, have threatened the health secretary with a judicial review to ensure parliamentary and public scrutiny of the plans for ACOs.

Dr Hutchinson, a former consultant eye surgeon in Halifax and Huddersfield and one of the campaigners, said they are also concerned about the privatisation of the NHS through ACOs. 

He said: ‘Our review is about who should decides what is free and what you will have to pay for. We think that should be decided by politicians accountable to the public; not private companies who want to make money.’

He added that the Government’s consultation on regulatory changes was carried out ‘before providing any serious information about ACOs themselves, without consulting the public or parliament about what his plans entail’.

He said: ‘Nobody has said why ACOs are needed to achieve policy objectives, we know that change has been going on at a phenomenal rate for many years without the need for these new entities.

‘Nobody has explained the impact that they would have on the scope of treatment that’s provided, what the range of procedures, the entitlement of patients to services.’

The solicitors have sent the health secretary a pre-action letter, asking to withdraw support of the ACOs. But the lawyers for the health secretary and NHS England rejected the arguments, saying that they’re ready to defend any judicial review. 

The DH said they recieved the pre-action letter, adding that they strongly resist the claims in the letter as the consultation is entirely appropriate and lawful, given the nature and scope of the DH’s role.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘It is completely misleading to suggest ACOs are a step towards privatising the health system. The objective of the new care models programme is to deliver joined up, patient-centred care. Regardless of organisational form, ACOs will offer free healthcare at the point of use.’

The four campaigners have now launched a crowd-funding initiative to raise £144,000 towards preparing and filing a claim to put before the court, seeking permission for the judicial review.