By Gareth Iacobucci
Exclusive: The expert panel charged with overseeing the Government's 'listening exercise' on its controversial NHS reforms will have the teeth to bring in key changes to the health bill demanded by GPs, its GP chairman has insisted.
In an exclusive interview with Pulse, Professor Steve Field said the Future Forum panel – which will present its findings to prime minister David Cameron early next month – would have the clout and independence to make any recommendations it feels are valid to the Government.
Pulse revealed earlier this week that he would press for a duty to be placed on the competition regulator Monitor to supported integrated care – one of the key concerns raised by critics of the bill.
The former RCGP chair said he been stung by criticism of his appointment into the role by some GPs, who have suggested he was too close to ministers to articulate the strength of opposition among sections of the profession.
Professor Field stressed he had been 'guaranteed' of the independence of the panel by ministers.
'I'm a bit sad that there's been criticism about me taking on the role. I was offered this because people felt that I would be independent, strong-minded and not swayed by a particular opinion,' he said.
The chair of the 44-strong panel also said he agreed with many of the 'serious concerns' about cost competition and the role of Monitor raised by his successor Dr Clare Gerada in an RCGP document published this week.
'I don't agree with her on some of the issues she's raising, but actually, when you read the document the College produced, most are things I've said in the past.'
'I've been promoting as part of the listening exercise for the last month, the idea that we might ask Monitor to have a duty to encourage or support integrated care.'
Despite praising her passion, Professor Field questioned whether her firebrand approach may sometimes lead to 'unintended consequences'.
'Clare is one of my best mates. She was my deputy, I've worked with her for many years and the passion she has for the NHS is fantastic.'
But he warned: 'I think sometimes there are, in the passion, things that come out which have unintended consequences. Clare has a different style to me. I've always believed that you say some things in public and that you negotiate and work very hard on the politics behind the scenes.'
Professor Field admitted that the listening exercise had left GP pathfinders in a state of flux and confusion, but urged them not to hold back in engaging.
He said: 'There is a real concern that they are being held back, emotionally because they are uncertain, but also by PCTs.'
'Whatever happens politically, commissioning seems to be the centre of what everyone wants to rally around. I don't think there's any reason on the commissioning to hold back at the moment.'Professor Steve Field Steve Field on….
The listening exercise
‘We have to accept we're not going to be able to please everyone. What we've got to do is take some of the extreme views out.'
‘There is a real concern they are being held back. A number don't feel they are being represented at a national level or being given credit for the work they're doing.'
‘It's really easy to go into the press and make dramatic headlines about the end of the NHS. It's a fear but I'm not convinced it's a reality.'
His negotiating style
‘I've always believed you say some things in public and you negotiate and work very hard on the politics behind the scenes.'