NHS reforms could leave North Devon service ‘in tatters’

Campaigners call on North Devon MP Nick Harvey to help battle plans which they say would lead to privatisation of the NHS.

OPPOSITION is growing in North Devon to the coalition government’s proposed reform of the National Health Service which many fear will lead to privatisation and the loss of local services.

On Friday the North Devon Save the NHS Campaign, together with members of The North Devon Anti-Cuts Alliance and campaigning group 38 Degrees presented a petition to North Devon MP and Defence Minister Nick Harvey.

They say the Health and Social Care Bill could “spell the end of the NHS as we know it” and lead to reduced services or even the closure of smaller hospitals such as South Molton, Ilfracombe or Holsworthy.

The bill currently aims to create “consortia” of GP practices with budgets to commission health services – replacing the present system of primary care trusts – as well as opening up competition to allow private companies or the voluntary sector to bid for healthcare services on an equal footing with the NHS.

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It would give GPs power to choose private healthcare for their patients over NHS hospitals.

But there is confusion as to what the final reforms will be after the government halted the progress of the bill for a “listening” period. It looks set to be delayed by six months or more as it returns to the House of Commons and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has called for the removal of a major clause in order to limit private competition against NHS hospitals.

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Rosemary Haworth-Booth, who is a member of the North Devon campaign groups and 38 Degrees, presented Mr Harvey with the petition at his Barnstaple offices on Friday.

“He was quite sympathetic and kindly gave us an hour of his time,” she said.

“If these reforms do go ahead the NHS will be privatised and come up against EU competition laws.

“With private providers coming in and bidding against the NHS for jobs, the money that’s available will go to those, not local hospitals. They will be strapped for cash and will have to run down or may even be forced to close.”

Mr Harvey told the Gazette he had listened to the campaigners’ points and shared quite a few of them.

“The proposals have in effect been put on hold and won’t come back in the same format. I think the debating point is what form they will come back in,” he said.

“The government is taking the opportunity to consult NHS workers, patients and the public and will come back with more thoughts on this in due course.”

He added that the two major issues of fund holding GPs and private providers had caused a lot of controversy and would “clearly have to be modified” if the government expected to get the reforms through.

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