Health chiefs’ fears over reform plans

Alan Foster
Alan Foster

HEALTH chiefs have expressed their fears over radical NHS reform plans.

During a meeting of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust’s board of directors, trust chief executive Alan Foster expressed concerns about how the plans would affect the trust.

Proposed Government healthcare reforms have come under attack from MPs as the Conservatives propose to abolish Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts, paving the way for the handover of the £80bn NHS budget to privately-run GP consortia.

The reform aims to save the NHS £20bn over the next four years.

Easington MP Grahame Morris appeared in the Mail last month saying the move would lead to “price competition” among private healthcare companies bidding for contracts, which would be “damaging” for health needs.

Mr Foster told the meeting, held at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, about how legislation being introduced as part of the new health bill being pushed through Parliament would affect the trust.

He said: “I want to alert the board to the rigours of competition and the legal requirements,

“We are about trying to retain integrated services, both acute and community, across our two hospitals.

“We must continue to do that to safeguard services.”

Mr Foster added: “I am wanting to alert the board to the specifics within the bill as well as the structural changes that will affect foundation trusts, specifically competition.

“Within the legislation, it makes clear that competition and the bringing-in of other providers of healthcare will be the policy going forward.

“The legislation allows for competition and will be full-blown in the sense of challenges and or decisions that may or may not be in the interests of patients.”

Mr Foster said the legislation also includes the Office of Fair Trading acting as a regulator of competition.

He said there had already been a “degree of increased private sector involvement and voluntary sector involvement” in healthcare to increase capacity.

He gave examples as the out-of-hours services in Hartlepool being transferred to the Northern Doctors group, at the One Life centre in Park Road, and sexual health services being awarded to Assura.

But Mr Foster added: “This takes it to a completely different level.

“We are already seeing this happening under the legislation and it’s obviously going to go a lot further and a lot faster.”

He said all trusts are also required to have mechanisms in place to manage risks, such as insolvency and failure, through a “risk pool”.

“We have to make sure clinical services are financially sustainable,” he said.

“Certain important services will be classified as designated and protected and there are arrangements for those to continue.

“We just need to watch how that plays out.”

A board seminar is planned for when the health bill is expected to become law, later in the year.