A senior Conservative MP has called on Jeremy Hunt to put the brakes on plans which campaigners have previously claimed could open the NHS to privatisation.
Sarah Wollaston, the chair of the Commons Health Committee, has written to the Health and Social Care Secretary urging him to delay a new contract for Accountable Care Organisations (ACOs) – due to be implemented later this year.
She claims there is a “great deal of concern” over the plans which she considers “have not been well aired publicly up until now”.
According to the House of Commons Library, the little-known policy is a model of healthcare organisation where a provider or group of providers takes responsibility for the healthcare provision of a certain area. The providers are expected to take responsibility for a budget.
The Government hopes the plans will dissolve the boundary between health and social care systems and integrate services, with the aim of improving the health of local populations.
But critics of the planned system claim it would open up the NHS to privatisation and have launched a legal challenge against the changes.
The Department for Health and Social Care have previously strongly rejected such claims, adding it is “misleading” and “irresponsible scaremongering” to suggest ACOs are being used to support privatisation of the NHS.
In her letter, Ms Wollaston said she is requesting the Government delay the introduction of the new contract for ACO until after the Health Committee “has taken the opportunity to hear evidence on the issues around the introduction of accountable care models to the NHS”.
She said: “As I am sure you are aware, a great deal of concern has been expressed about the development of ACOs in the NHS. I expect the Committee to consider these concerns, and the responses to them, in the course of its inquiry into sustainability and transformation partnerships, announced last autumn.”
Ms Wollaston said the committee will present its findings after Easter, adding: “The committee’s inquiry will provide an opportunity to hear both sides of the arguments around the development of accountable care models, which I consider have not been well aired publicly up until now.
“It will enable public concerns to be heard, and the Government and the NHS to consider what steps need to be taken to allay those concerns if this policy is to be pursued.”
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said Mr Hunt will respond to Ms Wollaston’s letter shortly, adding: “ACOs are about integrating care and bringing services together, so people’s care is coordinated around them – not the other way round.
“ACOs will help deliver more care in the community and patients’ homes, improving access to services and meaning fewer trips to hospital”.
It also comes after Stephen Hawking joined legal action last year that is seeking to scupper the establishment of ACOs in England.
“I am concerned that accountable care organisations are an attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS,” he said.
“They have established by statute, and they appear to be being used for reducing public expenditure, for cutting services and for allowing private companies to receive and benefit from significant sums of public money for organising and providing services.”
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: ”Sarah Wollaston has made an important and welcome contribution to the debate about so called Accountable Care Organisations. Ministers have failed to reassure us these won’t be a vehicle for large-scale private sector involvement in running local health services.
“Given the Carillion debacle this call from the Health Select Committee Chair is timely and must not be dismissed by Jeremy Hunt.”
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