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Doctors fear Health Bill will scar North; Inequalities will worsen, they claim.

Byline: Helen Rae

HEALTH inequalities in the region will get worse if the Government's unpopular Health and Social Care Bill becomes law, senior doctors have warned.

In a letter sent to Newcastle peer Lord Beecham, the North East British Medical Association (BMA) has urged the House of Lords to listen seriously to the concerns raised "before it is too late".

In a scathing attack of the proposed NHS changes, the medics say the Bill "erodes the equality of healthcare provision and the continuing emphasis on the market will produce even greater inequality of provisions and further heighten health inequalities which is a huge issue in the North East".

The letter comes amid growing pressure for the Bill to be withdrawn completely. The Government has already "paused" the Bill and has had to make more than 100 changes since it was first introduced. But the concessions have failed to quell protests from professional bodies such as the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing.

The legislation has already suffered one defeat since reaching the Lords and there are fears that the process could continue into next month.

The North East BMA said it strongly supported clinically-led commissioning and wanted closer working between community and hospital doctors and greater local autonomy to healthcare delivery in the region.

But the union said it continues to have huge concerns over the "over-reliance on market forces which remain at the core of the Bill" and "the proposals to give foundation trusts much more scope to generate income from private patients is hugely worrying and poses really serious risks."

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley's plans will give GPs the power to commission treatment and services for their patients from "any willing provider", including private companies.

Primary care trusts and strategic health authorities will be abolished by 2013 and GPs will control commissioning totalling pounds 80bn, 80% of the current NHS budget.

Hospitals are all to be set free from central control and an independent board will oversee services.

Mr Lansley has insisted the plans for modernisation are essential if the NHS is to have a long-term future.

Lord Beecham, the former Labour leader of Newcastle City Council who serves as an opposition spokesman on health, said he agreed with many of the issues raised in the letter.

He said: "My colleagues and I share most of the concerns and will be pursuing amendments to the Bill, though we join with most of the professional organisational in seeking the dropping of the Bill.

"I am particularly worried about the financial aspects of the changes to public health, especially the health premium, though I broadly support the thrust of those changes."

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted the Bill will give power to doctors and nurses, and would lead to more choice for patients and competition for treatment. He has also backed the under-fire Mr Lansley.

Mr Cameron said the Government was providing an extra pounds 12.5bn in this Parliament to eradicate health inequalities and cope with cost pressures.

"But modest spending increases without reform will not work," he said. "The failings of the current set-up are too profound and the future pressures are too great."


UNDER ATTACK Andrew Lansley is ploughing on with his health plans, despite mounting opposition
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 14, 2012
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