NHS endangered by health reforms, warns BMA chief

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Government health reforms are putting the NHS in danger and giving private companies a "licence to print money", the chairman of the British Medical Association has warned.

James Johnson attacked the "breakneck pace" and "incoherent planning" behind key Department of Health policies and warned that some reforms were "deeply flawed". He said managers were also interfering in decisions about where patients were referred for treatment because of pressure to use private companies given contracts by the Government to provide services.

He told the BMA's annual meeting in Belfast that it was "outrageous" that patients were being diverted from their local hospitals to Independent Sector Treatment Centres (ISTCs) by non-medically qualified management consultants employed by local trusts.

The Government claims that ISTCs reduce NHS waiting times but many doctors say they are a waste of money and that too little is known about the quality of care they offer. Trusts and GPs are currently responsible for commissioning services, but recent government proposals to hand over the responsibility for commissioning NHS services to private companies mean the independent sector could in effect become both the seller and buyer of treatments.

Mr Johnson said: "You don't have to be a financial wizard to work out that if a private company runs the hospitals and also commissions the services, it adds up to a licence to print money. GPs are steeped in the ethos of the NHS and are answerable to their patients. Private organisations are answerable to their shareholders."

To loud applause, Mr Johnson insisted that the NHS should remain comprehensive and free at point of use. He warned that creeping privatisation was leading to disaffection among doctors and causing damage to the NHS.