Plans have been tabled to convert the NHS into a public/private enterprise, which critics say is based upon the US private health insurance-based system.
Senior health professionals and campaigners have now come together to take legal action and demand a judicial review, to ensure full parliamentary scrutiny of the proposals.
Under NHS England's new plans, the boundary between health and social care would be dissolved and new systems and structures would allow alternative funding sources, ultimately leading to the creation of new healthcare overseers called Accountable Care Organisations (ACOs).
ACOs would permit commercial, non-NHS bodies to run health and social services. They could be awarded huge contracts to manage and provide whole packages of care, allowing the ACOs to either provide the NHS service themselves or sub-contract it.
This means ACOs will have control over the allocation of NHS and taxpayers’ money but their accountability for spending it and their obligations to the public will be under commercial contracts, not government statutes.
Solicitors representing prominent NHS campaigners have now contacted Mr Hunt to inform him that they are seeking a judicial review in an attempt to ensure parliament can fully scrutinise the proposals.
They claim the Department of Health’s consultation process was limited, inadequate and unlawful due to the lack of national consultation or parliamentary approval.
Dr Colin Hutchinson, Professor Allyson Pollock, Professor Sue Richards and Dr Graham Winyard are all working together to put the case to the Department of Health.
Prof Pollock, a BMA council member and co-author of the NHS reinstatement bill, said the proposals were an attempt to Americanise health care in England and that the NHS was progressively being dismantled.
"Our NHS has been an international model for countries around the world for a health system that represents fairness, efficiency and freedom from the fear of illness. It has provided health care for all free at the point of delivery through public funding, public ownership and public accountability,” Prof Pollock told The Independent.
“Its popularity has endured since 1948 and is a symbol of all that is decent about Britain. However it is being starved of funds and progressively dismantled and replaced with corporate structures known as Accountable Care Organisations which will facilitate the introduction of American-style healthcare systems.
“These latest proposals are the tipping point in steps towards the Americanisation of England’s health care.
“The government has not only failed to consult the people of England about its plans but it has failed to lay its proposals before parliament. In so doing, it is acting beneath the statutory radar in attempting the Americanisation of our health care and this fundamental re-organisation by stealth.
“We call on everyone to support this legal action against the Secretary of State for health to ensure proper national public consultation and full parliamentary oversight and scrutiny,” she added.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “It is completely inaccurate to suggest ACOs are a step towards an insurance based system. They have absolutely nothing to do with the funding model of the NHS, which will remain a taxpayer-funded system free at the point of use, and are simply about making care more joined-up between different health and care organisations.
“It is irresponsible to scare vulnerable patients with these type of misleading allegations.”
The news comes as NHS bosses reportedly issued a “cry for help” after years of funding cuts.
NHS and social care leaders have written to Chancellor Philip Hammond to demand an increase in the pace of investment and an end to public sector pay restraint.
The heads of groups representing the entire NHS, medical royal colleges and a host of UK charities have co-signed a letter to the Treasury in advance of the upcoming budget.
It follows assessment from regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which said that front-line services are now in a “precarious condition”.
The letter says: “Even if the Government were only to stick to its current commitment, we believe the remaining £5.2bn should not be reserved for the last two years of the Parliament. It should instead be brought forward now to address significant current challenges.”
Clive Lewis MP has endorsed calls for a judicial review and said the plans were an attempt to “erode and meddle” until a US healthcare style system was in place.
"I, like many, feel increasingly alarmed by what is happening to the NHS. It’s perilously threatened. Jeremy Hunt’s reply to me in health questions indicates that he feels he has the right to change fundamental structures without reference to those who work in, use and care about the NHS, without an Act of Parliament and without explaining properly why these commercial organisations are needed and how they will improve care,” Mr Lewis told The Independent.
“He’s wrong. If we don’t stay vigilant the Tories will erode and meddle until they get the US healthcare system they appear to have planned.
“The Labour party conference voted unanimously to oppose ACOs and we must fight Hunt and Simon Stevens [CEO of NHS England] every step of the way until a Labour government can reinstate the NHS as a publicly provided and funded service," Mr Lewis added.