Health leaders have issued a stark warning about the risks to services of the government’s plan to overhaul the NHS at a time of financial retrenchment.
The concerns from the NHS Confederation and the Royal College of General Practitioners came as the government announced it was pressing ahead with its plan to scrap primary care trusts and strategic health authorities and place health commissioning responsibility in GPs.
The new system will be implemented over the next two years, despite the £100bn NHS budget facing a real terms freeze. The service is expected to find £15bn to £20bn of efficiency savings from 2011-15.
“NHS leaders up and down the country are really worried about the prospects for the next two to three years,” said NHS chief executive Nigel Edwards. “While we support the objectives of these reforms, we have to get there first.”
He said the government needed to do more to support the NHS to manage the transition and added: “Much of the machinery the NHS has traditionally used to achieve such change is being dismantled, devalued or suffering from reductions in capacity.”
Royal College of GPs president Dr Clare Gerada also raised concerns about the “pace of change” with the NHS having to also make “unprecedented savings”.
Health think-tank the Nuffield Trust also raised concerns. “The scale of reform is very fast and risks distracting efforts to achieve the efficiencies now urgently needed and maintain a grip on NHS finances,” said director Dr Jennifer Dixon.
The concerns were voiced as the government also announced that PCTs would be merged into clusters next year ahead of their abolition in 2013, to help release capacity to develop GP consortia.
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