Does the NHS Future Forum allow for dissenting GPs?

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 20 April 2011 in Diary
All the GPs on the panel are supportive of the Health Bill, discovers Caroline Crampton

I’ve had a look at the NHS Future Forum, which met for the first time today, and discovered that all the GPs on the forum have some prior connection to the reforms, either as outspoken supporters, or as leaders of the pathfinder consortia already being set up.

The forum, led by Professor Steve Field, is intended to provide a “valuable channel for the thoughts and opinions of patients and staff on the ground” – it was quickly put together for the ‘listening exercise during the pause in the Health and Social Care Bill.

But, despite being responsibly for nearly 80% of the NHS budget in the current Bill, only 5 of the 42 members of the NHS Future Forum are practising GPs, who are all supportive of the reforms. Including the 5 GPs, less than half are medical practitioners.

For instance, Dr Charles Alessi, a GP in Kingston-upon-Thames who is one of the leaders of the Kingston pathfinder consortium, wrote an article for The Sun earlier this year in which he laid out in detail why he believed the NHS reforms were the best possible outcome for doctors and patients.

Another participant in the forum, Dr Simon Brown, appeared on the Today programme in November last year to trumpet the work of the Hunts Health Consortium, which he leads. 

Dr Niti Pall, the clinical lead for the West Midlands third wave pathfinder and Dr Robert Varnum, the clinical lead of the Royal College of General Practitioners Centre for Commissioning, are also taking part in the forum.

The fifth GP is Dr Simon Atherton, who is a public health specialist and who has spoken extensively at recent conferences about the relationship between the public health agenda and GP-led commissioning. However, he was added to the forum at the last minute after it attracted criticism for not including a spokesperson from the public health side. In their statement announcing his addition, the department of health denied that he was afterthought, saying that reason for the delay was that the three additional members had only just confirmed that they could participate.

Dr Atherton - a trained GP – who is on the Forum in his role now as Director of Public Health at North Lancashire Primary Care Trust, has expressed any doubts or opposition to the proposals for the NHS. Last month, he expressed his concern that some consortiums could end up "cherry-picking healthier populations" and that "the more deprived and less affluent people [may] get left behind with the poor performing GPs".

The listening exercise has so far been dogged by speculation of potential u-turns and climb downs on the provision of the bill, as Lansley and Cameron scrabble to keep the core of the reforms in place while at the same time preventing a potentially humiliating rebellion and blockade from Lib Dem MPs and Lords.

The exercise will also consult front-line NHS staff. A questionnaire will be sent to staff, patients and GPs, although medical weekly publication Pulse reports that this will go to GPs “predominantly... in pathfinder consortia”.

A department of health spokesperson denied the Forum was not a true consultation. “This is nonsense,” she said. “There are five GPs on the NHS Future Forum, and they have a variety of views.  Forum members themselves will be discussing and engaging with a broader range of colleagues, staff and patients over the coming weeks."

See the full list of members of the NHS Future Forum here

Tags: Andrew Lansley, GP commissioning, NHS reform

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