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Union joins growing backlash against revised health bill

The UK's biggest union has followed the BMA and ex-GP peers in demanding that the health bill be scrapped, after claiming that the ‘lethal cocktail' of reforms will damage patient care and spark 'spiralling' waiting lists.

Unison demands an ‘immediate halt' to the health bill - despite the amendments made during the 'listening exercise - and warned that the ‘major, untried and untested' reforms would herald a ‘bleak' future for NHS staff and patients.

The union attacked the Government for choosing the ‘worst possible time' to bring in major reforms, arguing that the NHS is engulfed in a ‘lethal cocktail of economic uncertainty, spiralling waiting lists and budget deficits'.

The bill returns to the House of Commons for its report stage and third reading on 6 September, and will then move to House of Lords, with a second reading expected there in October.

Unison's announcement follows calls for the health bill to be scrapped from doctor's leaders and ex-medics in the House of Lords. In July, the BMA announced it would launch a public campaign against the bill, while Pulse exclusively revealed that the RCGP will back the BMA's call if GP concerns over the legislation are not addressed.  

Earlier this month Pulse reported that two ex-GP peers, Lord Nic Rea and Baroness Jenny Tonge, are fiercely opposed to the health bill and will be calling for it to be withdrawn.

Making today's announcement Christina McAnea, head of health for Unison said: ‘If the Health and Social Care Bill goes ahead, the outlook for the NHS and patients looks bleak. The Government's polices have already led to NHS patients waiting longer, often in great pain, for their operations.'

‘The bill will make matters worse by taking the cap off the number of private patients that hospitals are allowed to treat. It will be an enormous temptation for cash strapped hospitals to boost their income by prioritising paying patients, pushing NHS patients even further down the ever-spiraling waiting lists.'

'The economic uncertainty and budget deficits add to this lethal cocktail and should be obvious to the Government that now is not the time to bring in this massive, damaging NHS reorganisation.'

Health minister Simon Burns responded by accusing Unison of 'scaremongering'.

He said: 'Modernising the NHS will both safeguard the future of our health service, and will deliver a world class health service that puts patients at the heart of everything it does.'

'Average waiting times are low and remain stable - the vast majority of patients still receive treatment within 18 weeks - and we are committed to keeping them low.'

NHS Future Forum chair Professor Steve Field also said: 'Every health system in the developed world faces the challenges of rising demand, an ageing population and increasing costs of treatment.'

'These challenges will not be met by the NHS doing more of the same. They require a culture that centres on patients and makes better value of available resources.'