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Editor's blog Wednesday 7th September 2011: Oops, I Did It Again. Cameron misleads House on medical bodies' support for Bill

For the Prime Minister to mislead the House Of Commons (as Health Policy Insight exclusively proved he did over Mark Britnell) once is unfortunate.

To do so twice smacks of carelessness.


Click here for details of 'PM Cameron: “whole health profession on board for what’s now being done”. Why do they call August the silly season?’, the new issue of subscription-based Health Policy Intelligence.


Yesterday, we had the marvel of Health Minister Simon Burns' Alan Partridge impersonation to keep us awake.

Today, the joy was shared by Prime Minister David 'That Nice Mr' Cameron, giving us his Britney Spears rendition - 'Whoops, I Did It Again'.

Today Mr Cameron told the Commons (in reply to Ed Miliband's final question of Prime Minister's Questions) about "the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing all supporting our health reforms".

There is a slight problem with this statement.

It's largely wrong.

What they actually said
The Royal College of GPs issued a statement in response, which says that "To reiterate our position; the College supports putting clinicians at the centre of planning health services. However, we continue to have a number of concerns about the government's reforms, issues which we believe may damage the NHS or limit the care we are able to provide for our patients. These concerns have been outlined and reiterated pre- and post-pause. As a College we are extremely worried that these reforms, if implemented in their current format, will lead to an increase in damaging competition, an increase in health inequalities, and to massively increased costs in implementing this new system. As independent research demonstrates, the NHS is one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world and we must keep it that way".

The Royal College of Physicians gave the Full Fact website a statement that "The listening exercise improved the Health and Social Care Bill, but there are still areas that need to be changed. We welcome the mandatory involvement of specialist doctors and nurses in commissioning for this will help commissioning bodies make informed local decisions about patient care. However, the proposal that they should be from outside the commissioning area is impractical and will mean that they will lack the local knowledge that should improve decision making.”".

The Royal College Of Nursing issued a press release in response, which said that, "The Bill being placed before parliament next week has enormous ramifications for patients and for our members. While we acknowledge that the Government have listened to our members in a number of areas, we still have very serious concerns about where these reforms leave a health service already facing an unprecedented financial challenge.

“The Government has now changed the bill in response to calls from nurses and others, setting out what will happen if providers fail either financially or clinically, amending the language of Monitor’s role in competition and ensuring that nurses will be represented on the Clinical Commissioning Group boards. We have also welcomed the government’s commitment to maintain a system for professional education and training within the comprehensive health service.

“However, at a time when the NHS needs to find £20 billion in efficiencies, tackle waste, work harder to prevent ill health and deal with an aging population, we are telling MPs that this Bill risks creating a new and expensive bureaucracy and fragmenting care. This fragmentation risks making inequalities worse, and preventing health providers from collaborating in the interests of patients. We must avoid a situation where existing NHS providers are left with expensive areas of care while private providers are able to “cherry pick” the services which can be delivered easily. As the Bill enters this final phase, we will be working to ensure that there are checks and balances to avoid these very real risks.".

Moreover, the RCGP and RCN chairs both signed a letter to The Times published on Tuesday, the text of which stated, "The government remains committed to opening up the NHS further to market forces as a priority. Without building in appropriate safeguards, extending choice to any qualified provider risks seriously destabilising existing, mainly NHS, providers and making it much harder to develop the integrated care patients want and need.

"We share a number of more detailed concerns, including the removal of the private patient income cap; 'bonus' payments to clinical commissioning groups and the need for further reassurances over the health secretary's responsibility to provide a comprehensive health service.

"We support a vision of healthcare that is patient focused, clinically-led and based on outcomes. That is why further significant amendments must be made to the Health Bill".

With support like that ...

I am reminded of Addenbrookes' chair and first-class scientist Mary Archer's famous comment about her husband Lord Jeffrey Archer's "gift for inaccurate precis".