PM faces NHS row as Minister admits reforms give private sector 'genuine opportunites'

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Medical professions have rejected claims by the Prime Minister that the amended NHS reforms have their full support.

The knock-back came on the same day as a Health Minister said the restructuring provided "genuine opportunities" to private sector companies looking to offer NHS services.

However despite the external controversy, the third reading of the Health and Social Care Bill was passed by MPs with a majority of 65.

The big day for the government's health restructuring plans was highlighted by Lord Howe, Health Minister with responsibility for quality, telling the Laing & Buisson Independent Healthcare Forum that opening up the NHS to private sector organisations created genuine opportunities but that the NHS would not give up patients easily.

"The opening up of the NHS creates genuine opportunities for those of you who can offer high quality, convenient services that compete favourably with current NHS care," he said.

"If you can do that then you can do well.

"But you know that won't be easy, the NHS isn't a place to earn a fast buck and as I said there are some outstanding performers in the NHS and they will not give up their patients easily.

"But I know that those who are serious about entering the fray are also determined to rise to the challenge, to deliver excellent care, to stand on your own merits against the best the public sector has to offer to bring new levels of choice and quality to patients," he added.

Later, at Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron claimed the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), doctors, nurses and health service workers supported the changes being made.

This has since been contradicted by the RCGP and Royal College of Nursing (RCN), while the British Medical Association (BMA) - which represents doctors of all types - ran a high profile campaign prior to the latest stage in the reforms.

The NHS Confederation has also raised concerns and said it "remained to be convinced that the government's NHS reforms will deliver a coherent system and enable the health service to tackle the most significant challenges it faces today."

Responding to the PM's comment, Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the RCGP, said: "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 RCN reiterated its opposition to the Bill and echoed many of the concerns raised by the RCGP.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, added: "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."

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