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Union launches High Court challenge against ‘unlawful’ NHS reforms

By Neha Pathak

The Government has vowed to defend its plans to hand NHS budgets to GP commissioners as the UK's biggest public service union UNISON launched an audacious bid to block the reforms in the courts.

UNISON, the biggest public service union in the UK and Europe, has made an application for a judical review to the High Court, saying the Government's proposals - which include shifting the vast majority of the responsibility for commissioning service to GPs - are 'unlawful' because of inadequate public consultation.

Karen Jennings, UNISON head of health, said instructions from NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson to managers telling them to implement the proposals 'immediately' had prompted the union to pursue legal action.

The Department of Health said these instructions were designed to encourage managers to take the 'first steps' towards implementing the white paper and were not designed to pre-empt the ongoing public consultations on the proposals.

UNISON have placed a judicial review application to the High Court claiming that the Government has breached the terms of the Partnership Agreement, the NHS Constitution and section 242 of the NHS Act.

Ms Jennings said: 'The white paper contains sweeping changes to the NHS and how it should be run.'

'The NHS Constitution enshrines the principle that the public, staff and unions have an absolute right to be consulted. And that means not only on how the proposals are to be implemented, but also whether they should go ahead in the first place.'

'The Department for Health's refusal to recognise this clear and important legal duty leaves us no option but to issue legal proceedings as a matter of urgency.'

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said: 'The Department's position is that its decisions on consultation are lawful and it will be defending the claim by UNISON.'

'The Government has already launched public consultations on specific elements of the white paper, and further documents will be published this year.

'NHS chief executive David Nicholson has written to encourage the NHS to begin locally led consultations and take first steps on the implementation of the White Paper, without pre-empting the wider consultation.'

Former health secretary Andy Burnham today backed the union's legal challenge, saying 'Unison are right to launch legal action. Together we can stop this' on the social networking site Twitter.

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The Department of Health faces a legal challenge to its NHS reforms The Department of Health faces a legal challenge to its NHS reforms