To front up the so-called “listening” exercise, an NHS Future Forum has been set up. It is stuffed with high-profile supporters of Lansley’s plans. All five of the GPs on the panel are among the minority of GPs who signed up for Lansley’s suggested commissioning consortiums. The whole forum is under the chairmanship of Professor Steve Field, who controversially supported Lansley’s white paper back in July and has since been replaced as president of the Royal College of GPs by Dr Clare Gerada, who has criticised much of the Lansley plan.
The forum on “choice and competition” will be led by Sir Stephen Bubb, a one-time Labour councillor and now at the head the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations.
Bubb is a vigorous advocate of competition and greater private-sector involvement in delivering healthcare. He led a challenge to Labour’s attempts to designate the NHS as preferred provider of community health services. Other doctors, trust bosses, primary care trust and strategic health authority bosses and senior council officers among the 40 hand-picked appointees on the forum are likely to be influenced by their career aspirations. They are unlikely to listen to any articulate critics of the Lansley plan.
The whole process has been set up to waste a month, to give the impression of responding to public opinion - and then to press through the key elements of the plan with little if any actual change.
There is no indication that the principal objections raised at the Lib Dem conference a few weeks ago have been taken on board by the Tories, not least because the suggestion that the private sector can somehow be prevented from “cherry-picking” the most profitable services from the NHS is pure fantasy.
Cherry-picking is central to the private provision of healthcare. Even the so-called “non-profit” social enterprises will have to focus on delivering a surplus from their work and will be compelled in a competitive market to withdraw from services which cannot guarantee to deliver them a surplus.The only guarantee against the private sector cherry-picking services and destabilising existing NHS provision in many parts of the country is to drop Lansley’s plans altogether and to focus resources on investing in NHS care related to local need.
That’s why it’s vital that Labour and the unions crank up the pressure to force the Con-Dems to ditch the Bill.