Reforms are putting patients' lives at risk, say NHS trusts

Labour calls on Government to publish risk assessments showing effects of £20bn savings
  • @MattChorley

Patient safety is being put at risk by the Government's huge NHS shake-up, health trusts have warned, as Labour accused ministers of "breathtaking and dangerous arrogance".

Risk assessments from health trusts, compiled by the Labour Party, reveal widespread concern about their ability to cope at a time of major structural upheaval and ambitious plans to find £20bn in efficiency savings.

Some trusts warn that ministers have failed to learn from earlier scandals, including Stafford hospital, where it was estimated up to 1,200 patients died in four years because the NHS trust was preoccupied with cost cutting and targets. Others raise serious concerns about care for children, the elderly and pregnant women.

The Department for Health is locked in a battle with Labour over the release of the national risk assessment of its reforms. Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, has ruled it must be published, but ministers have launched an appeal, insisting no Government has published registers before.

However, Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, has compiled a dossier of concerns from individual trusts, which he claims reveals "what the Government doesn't want people to know about the risks it is running with its dangerous reorganisation of the NHS".

Writing in The Independent on Sunday, he accuses ministers of "sticking two fingers up at Parliament" and ploughing on with the changes before the legislation has been passed. "The arrogance is breathtaking, but also dangerous," he writes.

On Thursday the Health and Social Care Bill, which paves the way for the abolition of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities, enters the 13th day of its committee stage in the House of Lords. Mr Burnham stepped up his call for it to be scrapped: "Time is running out, but it's not too late. Britain's right wing may have launched a coup against the NHS, but it can still be stopped."

Mr Burnham said his dossier proves NHS reorganisation "is putting patient care at risk". NHS South Central, covering Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Oxfordshire, highlighted a "risk that the pace and scale of reform, if coupled with savings through cost reductions rather than real service redesign, could adversely impact on safety and quality."

In London there are warnings of "sub-optimal care" and the risk of "preventable harm to children" and mothers-to-be "being exposed to unsafe services". NHS Sussex warns the upheaval means staff are distracted from providing care, with the potential for "increased stress and sickness absence, lower morale and an inability to retain staff.

However, Lord Howe, the health minister, defended the decision not to release the national risk register, noting that in 2009 Mr Burnham, then Health Secretary, turned down a Freedom of Information request to publish Labour's risk register.

"We have been completely open about 'risk'," Lord Howe said. "People shouldn't trust the negative stories and scares briefed out by Labour. Their own plans would mean cutting the NHS, with serious consequences for the services patients rely on. Our plans to modernise the NHS will give doctors and nurses power to improve care, patients more choice, and save the NHS £4.5bn in bureaucracy."

Officials insist that the Department of Health has published "risk" information twice, in January and September this year, as part of the impact assessment for the Bill.