Back in April, the Government announced that it was taking the opportunity of a natural break in the passage of the Health & Social Care Bill - the vehicle for its proposed reforms to the NHS - to pause and to listen and engage with those who had expressed concerns. It established the independent NHS Future Forum to carry out this listening exercise.
At the time, lots of people exrpessed the fear to me that this was a purely cosmetic exercise, that the Government didn't have any intention of making any changes. Well yesterday the Future Forum published its report, which supported the principles of the reforms but made a series of key recommendations. Today the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, announced that the Government would accept all those recommendations.
The Prime Minister was right to intervene and order a pause. The NHS is a precious public service. If it is to cope with an ageing population and the cost of new treatments, it needs to change but the Government has to get the reforms right. I am particularly pleased to see that:
- a wider range of people, not just GPs, will be involved in the groups that commission local NHS services;
- the focus will not be on competition as an end in itself, but on informed patient choice. Allowing NHS patients to choose any qualified provider - public, private or voluntary - who can provide care at the NHS price will improve the quality of services for patients; and
- there will be more flexibility about the pace of change - commissioning groups who are ready can make progress but those who are not ready will not be forced to take on new responsibilities.