BMJ 2015;350:h1206 doi: 10.1136/bmj.h1206 (Published 3 March 2015)

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NEWS Doctors form new pressure group to prevent “marketisation” of NHS Matthew Limb London

Consultants and GPs are joining forces ahead of the general election to fight the “marketisation” and “break up of NHS services,” including the feared destruction of primary care.

Clare Gerada, immediate past president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, has urged medical colleagues to support the newly enlarged pressure group, Doctors for the NHS, at the campaign launch on 2 March. She said that the group was needed to prevent, within the next 18 months, the “annihilation of my profession.” She said, “I promise you: general practice is being dismantled.” The group, Doctors for the NHS (, has emerged from the NHS Consultants’ Association, which was founded in 1976 and has some 700 consultant supporters, expanding to include GPs and medical trainees.

The group’s president, Peter Fisher, who led the predecessor organisation for more than 20 years, said it was time for a “united front with the many GPs who we know share our views.” He said, “We changed name, but the ethos remains the same, as do our objectives.” Fisher said that the new group would put pressure on MPs, directly and “through the force of public opinion,” to convince them that the NHS’s direction “must change before it is too late.” He said that this was “not primarily for the benefit of we doctors . . . but for the sake of our patients—we owe it to them to make sure that when they need the NHS it is still there for them.” The group will campaign to reverse the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which it said “removed” the health secretary’s legal duty to provide essential services in England and “took marketisation to a new level.” It is backing an NHS Reinstatement Bill that would abolish the purchaser-provider split, end contracting, and re-establish public bodies and public services that are accountable to local communities.1

The group said that it will gather evidence to show how market forces and commercial competition continue to threaten services and founding principles of the NHS such as equity and universal coverage. It claims to be independent of political parties and trade unions and the “only” professional medical organisation having the NHS as its main concern rather than primarily staff interests.

The group announced its expansion at a public meeting in the House of Commons hosted by Fisher and Eric Watts, the group’s co-chair. They were joined by Gerada and other leading supporters: the Labour MP and former health secretary Frank For personal use only: See rights and reprints

Dobson; Allyson Pollock, professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University, London; Wendy Savage, president of the pressure group Keep Our NHS Public; Peter Trewby, a former acute hospital physician; and Jacky Davis, a consultant radiologist and long time NHS campaigner. Watts, a retired hospital consultant haematologist who worked in general practice before specialising, said, “We fear the NHS is under its biggest threat ever.” Speakers said that “ill informed” criticism that the NHS could not survive was paving the way for increased private sector provision and fragmentation. Successive reorganisations had taken the NHS “further and further” away from a publicly funded, publicly provided, and publicly accountable service. Dobson said that “the right wing and some of the neoliberals spread across all parties” were “questioning” the basis for the NHS and labelling it inefficient, when the opposite was true.

Gerada highlighted growing strains in primary care affecting patients and staff. “I’m afraid general practice is at its tipping point. I don’t give my profession another 18 months unless we get fair funding [and] love for it and stop this annihilation.” Pollock said that the group was attracting cross party support for the NHS Reinstatement Bill, expected to be tabled in parliament later this month. She said that unless the health secretary’s “duty to provide” was restored “we will continue to see the NHS wither away.” She said that NHS public health functions had been “carved up completely” and that children’s services had been “completely fragmented in a really shocking and terrifying way.”

Pollock said that although the bill would not become law in this parliament it would “start the debate rolling” and enable voters to see where their MPs stood. If the general election in May produced another hung parliament, “deals” would be done to form a new coalition government, she said.

Pollock said that the first 100 days of the next government would be a “critical time” and that the bill would serve as a “benchmark” to protect the NHS. She said that she was particularly worried by the “Manchester scenario,” the government’s recent plan to devolve funding for health and care to the city.2 “Manchester could be an interesting development, as could Birmingham or anywhere else, but it needs to be done under a national legislative framework where the duty to provide is actually restored. That way you could have really interesting


BMJ 2015;350:h1206 doi: 10.1136/bmj.h1206 (Published 3 March 2015)

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developments with local authorities and greater integration,” she said.

She said that local authorities, “even the Labour council ones” were contracting out the vast majority of services to the marketplace and that many essential care services were being cut back.

Trewby called for an end to “brain dead projects” such as the private finance initiative and the purchaser-provider divide. He said that the loss of hospital beds over recent years amounted to “carnage” and said that the NHS was being “cut to the bone.”

Jacky Davis said that “myths and lies” were being perpetuated that the NHS was failing patients while the private sector was better and that the group should use social media as part of its campaign to correct this. She said, “Members of our own profession believe this stuff. If we can’t persuade them that what is happening is bad I think we’re a lost cause.” 1 2

O’Dowd A. Health experts launch campaign to reverse NHS reforms. BMJ 2014;349:g6057. Iacobucci G. Manchester authority is set to take control of £6bn worth of health and social care spending. BMJ 2015;350:h1110.

Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1206 © BMJ Publishing Group Ltd 2015

For personal use only: See rights and reprints


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