Confidence in government plans for a radical overhaul of the health system took a blow this week after a survey of doctors commissioned by The King’s Fund found that frontline support for the proposals is a little on the thin side.

Fundamentally, the survey of 500 GPs and 500 hospital doctors, conducted by Doctors.net.uk’s market research arm medeConnect Healthcare Insight, revealed that less than a quarter believe the reforms will actually improve patient care in the long run.

Furthermore, only around 20% of doctors surveyed think the National Health Service will be able to maintain a focus on boosting efficiency and productivity to garner savings of £20 billion by 2015 - crucial to surviving the current era of financial austerity - while implementing the proposed reforms.

On the plus side, with regard to the crux of the government’s healthcare reforms - the handing over of commissioning and its £80 billion budget from primary care trusts to GPs - over 60% GPs believe there is capacity in their local areas to lead new GP consortia.

Elsewhere, only around 25% believe devolution of responsibility for public health to local authorities will make it easier to address major health issues, with nearly half of doctors surveyed actually disagreeing with this, while a significant portion – more than 40% - think GP commissioning will actually make it more difficult to tackle health inequalities.

According to Anna Dixon, Director of Policy at The King’s Fund, the government is relying on doctors to deliver its new healthcare reforms, but the survey highlights “significant scepticism” among doctors about the proposals “and shows that ministers have a lot of work to do to convince them that the reforms will improve patient care”.

Tim Ringrose, Medical Director at Doctors.net.uk, also noted that doctors are yet to be convinced of the benefits of the government’s new health direction, and he stressed that “clear, consistent communication with doctors about how the principles of these reforms translate into the reality of clinical practice should be a top priority for Andrew Lansley”.

Slower pace?

Earlier this month, The King's Fund called on ministers to slow down the speed and scale of new health reforms, over fears that hasty implementation of the plans could “distract attention from finding the efficiency savings needed to maintain quality and avoid cutting services”.

While the group supports the need for reform, it has questioned the need for such a fundamental reorganisation of health services “when evidence shows that health outcomes and public satisfaction have improved in recent years”. 

In its response to the planned reforms, the Royal College of General Practitioners told the government that allowing patients a free choice of GP practice would be “damaging in terms of continuity of care, health inequalities and potentially, patient safety.”

A survey of its members revealed the principles of greater GP leadership and influence are “well received,” it said, but also warned of concerns that the proposed scale, pace and cost of change will prove disruptive.