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Scottish health secretary attacks ‘dangerous’ NHS reforms

By Gareth Iacobucci

Scottish health secretary Nicola Sturgeon has launched a strongly-worded attack on the NHS reforms in England, claiming they had turned GP-led commissioning into a ‘dirty word' associated with privatisation and market-based competition.

Addressing GPs at the Scottish LMCs conference in Clydebank, Ms Sturgeon described the coalition's reforms as ‘dangerous and wrong-headed', and accused ministers south of the border of deliberately downplaying the more controversial aspects of the reforms.

The health secretary's well-received address came after delegates called for the Scottish GPC to ‘explore different models of GP commissioning of healthcare', but unanimously opposed the ‘market-driven health policies of the UK coalition'.

In his own keynote speech, Scottish GPC chair Dr Dean Marshall warned the consequences of reforms to increase competition could be ‘severe' for patients, and said Scotland's GPs would support colleagues in England to ‘preserve the founding principles of the NHS.'

But LMC representatives dodged a separate motion condemning GP commissioning as a ‘cynical ploy to put rationing decisions in the hands of GPs', which was moved to next business.

Ms Sturgeon said: ‘I don't see GP commissioning as the worst element of the English reform. But the UK Government has turned commissioning into a dirty word.

‘Putting GPs in the driving seat of patient care is a notion that most people will instinctively agree with. So it is probably no accident that the UK Government has chosen to highlight that aspect of its reforms and play down the ‘any willing provider' elements.

She added: ‘I don't favour the model of commissioning as proposed in England for two main reasons. Firstly, it is accompanied by a marketisation of healthcare that I believe is wrong and will be damaging. Secondly, at a time when greater partnership is needed between primary and secondary care, it seems to me to promote a very one-way relationship.'

Grampian LMC secretary Dr David Bell, who proposed the motion on commissioning, said it was important to have some active involvement from GPs in advising on how budgets are used, but urged the Scottish GPC to ‘find a Scottish solution'.

‘If we lay emotion aside, without active input from GPs, hospitals will run away with budgets,' he said. ‘But we must avoid the damaging game of selling off our health service to any willing provider.'

Nicola Sturgeon