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Former RCGP chair fronts bid to save health bill

By Ian Quinn

Exclusive: Former RCGP chair, Professor Steve Field, has been drafted in to head up a two-month Government ‘listening exercise' in a bid to win round critics to its NHS reforms, including a questionnaire being sent to front-line NHS staff and patients.

Professor Field joined prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg at a hospital visit in Surrey yesterday, where he was be revealed as the head of a new independent 'Future Forum' panel, which will launch a new consultation with GPs, other NHS staff and patients.

Pulse has learnt the ‘listening exercise' will involve a questionnaire being sent to front-line NHS staff and patients. It will also include GPs, but largely those in pathfinder consortia. They will be asked for their views on what they think makes good commissioning, about competition in the NHS and education and training.

Pulse understands both the RCGP and GPC have been excluded from the panel which will oversee the process and the Government has indicated that it does not think there needs to be a major change of direction.

The exercise was quickly slammed by Professor Field's successor, Dr Clare Gerada. She told Pulse: ‘The Government had 6,000 responses to its consultation on the white paper.

'It's received endless representation from groups including the BMA, the RCGP, charities and patient groups and the responses have all been the same, or more of less the same.

'I just don't understand how having a listening exercise can do anything. What we should be focusing on is the concerns about fragmentation, about the ramping up of marketisation and the emphasis on competition.

‘If this listening exercise is a sop to make it look like they are listening we will know. The Prime Minister going around hospitals and talking to people is not the same as listening.'

David Kerr, a health adviser under former Prime Minister Tony Blair and professor of cancer medicine, has also been tipped as a possible member of the panel.

But Dr Gerada said she had ‘major concerns' about the questions that would be asked to GPs and patients in the survey. ‘If the questions are leading questions then there is no point. I'm very confused about what the Government is trying to achieve when it already has been made very clear what GPs and other groups think of the bill.

Despite the major concerns of the RCGP, Professor Field has always been a major supporter of the Government's plans, calling them a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity for GPs.'

However, yesterday the House of Commons Health Committee launched calls for major changes to the legislation, which would scrap the idea of GP consortia running health budgets in favour of local commissioning boards made up of much wider clinical, patient and local authority representation.

Professor Steve Field