With the Health and Social Care Bill moving closer to becoming law, the proposed reforms have inevitably been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks.
The Government has found itself having to once again justify its plans as the Lords debated and then approved the bill. During a tense appearance on the BBC’s question time Andrew Lansley was forced to repeatedly deny that the Government’s plans amounted to ‘covert privatisation.’ More recently the SNP accused the government of ‘breaking up the NHS.’ Doctors and patient groups and even senior Liberal Democrats have spoken out against the plans but the government has been unmoved, steadfast in its commitment to the reforms
Despite the maelstrom surrounding the reforms, the Department of health has not been sitting on its laurels and there has been a steady stream of announcements emanating from Whitehall. New guidance for clinical commissioning groups was announced on 30th September, with the Health Secretary revealing that 253 GP practices across the country have now come forward to directly commission services. The announcement put “healthcare professionals in the driving seat” according to Mr Lansley.
Greater transparency and choice in the NHS are two of the cornerstones of the Health and Social Care bill and this month measures were announced to strengthen both. First it was announced that personal health budgets will be rolled out from October 2012. The budgets, which are designed to give patients more choice and control over their care, “clearly fits with the future direction of the NHS” the Health Secretary said.
Andrew Lansley also revealed the results of a patient survey in which 80 per cent of patients declared they wanted more choice over how and where they are treated and who provides their care. Mr Lansley went on to unveil new guidance which sets out how all NHS providers of care will have to accept all clinically appropriate referrals. Furthermore, the same providers will have to publish relevant information about their consultants and the services they provide. The Government hopes this will lead to greater transparency and quality within the Health Service.
The commitment to quality continued with Andrew Lansley announcing that the NHS constitution would be changed to enshrine whistleblowing, protecting doctors, nurses and other NHS workers who report bad practice to the authorities.
As expected, the news agenda in the sector has been dominated by the Health and Social care bill but a number of significant funding announcements have also emerged.
First, Care Services Minister, Paul Burstow set out £2.6m to fund national Health and Social Care volunteering and social initiatives in 2012. The Minister was quick to sing the praises of volunteers everywhere saying: “Volunteers can be a great asset in promoting and improving health. The funding I have announced will mean more projects can get volunteers involved in providing real support that will help local communities and give the volunteers invaluable experience and skills.”
From volunteers to mental health, Mr Paul Burstow announced the government was joining forces with Comic Relief to provide up to £20million for Time to Change, the leading stigma and anti-discrimination campaign, run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.
The funding was welcomed by Time to Change Director, Sue Baker who stated that the cash would allow the charity to continue its wok until 2015 helping to fund the next phase of the campaign.
All in, it has been a busy month for Mr Lansley, and despite the controversy it has caused, it looks like the much maligned Health and Social Care Bill will soon be on the statute books. The interesting thing will be to see what affect the plans will have and just how well the NHS and the wider sector will adapt.