Local NHS boards scrapped ahead of schedule, by-passing disputed new laws

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03 Oct 2011

The boards running Staffordshire’s three NHS primary care trusts have been abolished 18 months early, pre-empting Parliament and provoking fresh controversy over the Government’s top-down health reforms.

Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly said the abolition of the three separate governing bodies undermined the government’s claims to have suspended its disputed health reforms  pending further consultation - and proved that “the Tories still can’t be trusted on the NHS.”

In April, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced a “pause” to the reforms in the face of fierce criticism from doctors, nurses and patients groups as well as MPs and members of the House of Lords, who have called for major changes to the proposed legislation.

“The government’s promise to be listening and consulting just looks cynical. The bureaucracy is just going ahead regardless, with the full blessing of ministers. They are holding Parliament, and critics from Labour and the likes of Shirley Williams of the Liberal Democrats in contempt,’ Mr Farrelly said.

‘David Cameron promised at the last election that there would be no more ‘top-down re-organisations of the NHS. Yet that is exactly what we’re getting, even before legislation passes. The health service has seen too much distracting change. These latest moves undermine local responsiveness and independence of our NHS, ahead of the Tory privatisation agenda.’

Mr Farrelly was speaking after it was disclosed that the boards of the three Staffordshire PCT bodies – covering Newcastle & the Moorlands, Stoke-on-Trent and South Staffordshire - had been scrapped regardless and replaced with a single board covering the whole County.

The abolition of Primary Care Trusts and their replacement by new ‘commissioning groups’ led by GPs is one of the key changes in the disputed Health and Social Care Bill, which is currently stalled in Parliament.

Mr Farrelly and his former Parliamentary colleague Charlotte Atkins, the previous MP for Staffordshire Moorlands, fought successfully for the retention of a North Staffordshire PCT – to recognise the different needs of the area - when the last round of NHS reorganisations took place.

“The abolition of our local PCT board, coupled with the rapid reorganisation of the larger strategic health authorities, is happening in a manner that clearly pre-empts Parliament and should be put on hold until they have a proper democratic mandate,’ he said.

“The speed and manner in which these developments are being carried through and the weakening of decision-making structures does not augur well for an accountable, participative NHS.’

“Indeed, these administrative developments only serve to confirm the widely-held fears that the coalition is pushing ahead with these reforms with complete disregard for Parliament and in the face of the genuine fears that they will usher in the partial privatisation of the health service.”

Mr Farrelly has raised his concerns with Graham Urwin and Alex Fox, Chief Executive and Chairman of the new ‘Staffordshire cluster of PCTs’ and also plans to voice them in Parliament.