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Wednesday 26th October 2016

Health Secretary defends reform

22nd September 2006

10072006_nursesstation1.jpgHealth secretary Patricia Hewitt has defended controversial government plans to reform the health service.

In a speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Patricia Hewitt backed plans to forge ahead with plans for radical reorganisation, which had caused controversy in an earlier interview with new NHS chief executive David Nicholson. He had outlined contentious plans to centralise key services, including emergency care, in fewer hospitals.

Whilst stressing her adherence to the 'key values' of the NHS, Ms Hewitt said that changes and reform are 'essential if we are to protect those values in a fast changing world'. The three big challenges facing that changing world were people's expectations, demographics, and the ever accelerating pace of change in medical science and technology, she said.

Ms Hewitt argued that more power must be handed over to patients and local people with "far greater" freedom given to NHS staff to "reshape services for the benefit of local people". She added that the NHS would keep "national standards with local initiatives" driven by primary care trusts and GPs.

She also defended plans to outsource certain NHS jobs to the private sector, which has been widely criticised.  Ms Hewitt stressed that the NHS will not just be a 'logo to stick on the front door of a private hospital'.

"The test here is not who owns it – public or private - but whether they can provide the best service. [There should be] competition as well as cooperation in the system."

"Is this privatisation? Never? Is it changing the NHS? Absolutely." the Health Secretary concluded.

The BMA Chairman, Mr James Johnson, responding to the speech said he is worried about the scale of private involvement in the NHS, commenting that “The BMA is very concerned about the potential open door policy to the private sector."

He said that in a market environment there will always be winners and losers and that it was the "vulnerable patients like the mentally ill and the elderly whose voices may be lost in this future health service." 

Dr Beverly Malone, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said that the RCN welcomed Patricia Hewitt’s comments that the founding principles of the NHS are non-negotiable, adding that the RCN were not against reform in itself.  However "this headlong rush into reform is simply leaving disaffected staff in its wake, and risks giving people services they do not want? said Dr Malone.

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