British Medical Journal, Health Service Journal and Nursing Times condemn shakeup as a 'damaging … unholy mess'
The coalition's NHS reforms, the biggest shakeup of the health service in 60 years, are a "damaging … unholy mess" that will need overhauling in five years' time, the editors of three leading healthcare publications claim.
In an editorial published simultaneously by the British Medical Journal, Health Service Journal and Nursing Times, their editors say the NHS "is far too important to be left at the mercy of ideological and incompetent intervention" and argue ,"we must make sure that nothing like this ever happens again".
The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, will attempt to soothe the anger of critics, particularly in the House of Lords where the health and social care bill will return next month, by proposing 200 amendments to the legislation later this week. However, the editorial bluntly states that the damage has already been done.
"The government's NHS reforms have proved divisive and destructive. They have slowed the improvement of NHS services and cost the UK money that it can ill afford."
In a second BMJ editorial published on Tuesday, Kieran Walshe, professor of health policy at Manchester Business School, says that abandoning the bill now would save just over £1bn in 2013.
He says there are three clear benefits to dispensing with the bill. First, it would put an end to the damaging period of prolonged organisational uncertainty in the NHS that started when the white paper was published 18 months ago. Second, it would allow NHS organisations to focus on what is the real and urgent problem for the NHS - finding £20bn in efficiency savings.
Finally, Walshe says the savings from the proposals have already been made. "Going ahead with the bill means setting up the NHS Commissioning Board (with an annual running costs of £492m), 260 clinical commissioning groups (with an annual running costs of £1.25bn), and the new economic regulator, Monitor (with its anticipated annual running costs of £82m). Each of these new statutory organisations will have additional set-up costs – perhaps amounting to a one-off spend of £360m. If the bill were stopped now, it would save all those set-up costs, and at least £650m in annual running costs – just over £1bn in 2013."
Labour seized on the analysis. Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, said: "The chorus of protest against Andrew Lansley's ill-conceived plans for the NHS grows louder by the day, uniting voices across the health world. This is a powerful and scathing critique of the government's handling of its NHS re-organisation from three of the most respected voices in healthcare.
"It reflects the strength of feeling in the health professions and echoes the widely-held that this bill is unnecessary and a distraction from the financial challenge facing the NHS."
However, it was dismissed by Lansley's aides as "not exactly unexpected".
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Our reforms are based on what NHS staff themselves have consistently said; they want more freedom from day to day bureaucracy and political interference so they can get on with the job of caring for patients. That is exactly what this bill achieves.
"It's completely untrue to suggest that dropping the bill would save the NHS money. Our plans will reduce needless bureaucracy by a third and save £4.5bn over the course of this parliament and £1.5bn every year afterwards. Every penny saved will be reinvested in frontline care for patients." The Guardian