Jeremy Hunt urged to ‘delay’ NHS shake-up

An influential Conservative MP has asked Jeremy Hunt to delay controversial reforms designed to change the way NHS funds are overseen.

The chair of the Health Committee, Sarah Wollaston, has written to the Health Secretary expressing concerns about the introduction of accountable care organisations (ACOs)

There is currently a lawsuit supported by physicist Stephen Hawking which aims to stop the new system due to be introduced in some areas of England in April, amid fears it will benefit private companies while reducing the provision of services.

Dr Wollaston writes to Mr Hunt: “I am writing to request that you delay the introduction of the new contract for accountable care organisations until after the Health Committee has taken the opportunity to hear evidence on the issues around the introduction of accountable care models to the NHS.

“As I am sure you are aware, a great deal of concern has been expressed about the development of ACOs in the NHS. I expect the committee to consider these concerns.”

Dr Sarah Wollsaton appeared on Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday

Image: Dr Sarah Wollsaton has raised concerns

The committee will assess the reforms in February and March, with a view to reporting after Easter.

ACOs have been promoted by Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, as a way of integrating health service bodies and providers of social care to the benefit of patients.

However, opponents fear it is a route to privatisation, giving the ACOs’ control of budgets and incentives to restrict care.

Announcing he was challenging the changes, Professor Hawking told the Guardian last month: “They appear to be being used for reducing public expenditure, for cutting services and for allowing private companies to receive and benefit from significant sums of public money for organising and providing services.”

A campaign group called 999 Call for the NHS is raising funds for the legal challenge due to take place at Leeds High Court in April.

Stephen Hawking has motor neuron disease

Image: Stephen Hawking says the reforms ‘appear to be being used for… cutting services’

On its crowdfunding site it says the contract allows the ACOs to “keep the money left over at the end of the year”.

It adds: “This new payment mechanism is supposed to drive efficiency and incentivise accountable care organisations to ‘manage demand’ for NHS and social care services, but we are concerned that financial decisions not clinical need would determine patients’ access to treatment.”

Dr Wollaston told Sky News that there appeared to be a lot of “misinformation” about the new scheme and she hoped that “both sides can put their guns down”, while her committee assesses the evidence.

However, that would mean Mr Hunt delaying a key part of his five-year blueprint to modernise the Health Service.

Dr Wollaston argues that delaying the introduction of the planned contract changes until the committee has examined both sides of the argument would be “a sensible step in ensuring that public confidence is maintained in developments in the NHS”.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The Secretary of State will be responding to the letter from Dr Sarah Wollaston MP and the Health Committee shortly.

“ACOs are about integrating care and bringing services together, so people’s care is coordinated around them – not the other way round.

“ACOs will help deliver more care in the community and patients’ homes, improving access to services and meaning fewer trips to hospital.”

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said Dr Wollaston had made “an important and welcome contribution to the debate” about ACOs.

More from NHS

He said: “Ministers have failed to reassure us these won’t be a vehicle for large-scale private sector involvement in running local health services.

“Given the Carillion debacle, this call from the Health Select Committee chair is timely and must not be dismissed by Jeremy Hunt.”