Prime Minister David Cameron and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley have been lambasted by doctors, nurses and unions who were not invited to a 'health summit' held at 10 Downing Street concerning National Health Service reforms.
Mr Cameron convened the meeting but key opponents of the proposed changes, notably the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Nursing, did not get a seat at the table. The Prime Minister's official spokesman, as reported by the Press Association, denied that Mr Cameron was avoiding critics, but rather the purpose of the meeting was "to hear first-hand from people who are implementing the reforms about how the process is going".
At the daily briefing in Westminster, the spokesman added that Mr Cameron was meeting "a number of national healthcare organisations and clinical commissioning groups. There will be several royal colleges represented [and he] will also be talking to a number of GPs who will be setting out their experiences in implementing the reforms".
Govt accused of 'selective listening'
However this did not appease those groups not at Number 10. Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA Council , said “it is extremely disappointing that the government seems increasingly to be indulging in selective listening". The BMA, which represents nearly 150,000 doctors, wants to "find a way to make sure patient care continues to improve", he said, adding that "if the government shares this objective, it has to recognise that NHS reform must have the support of these – and all other – health professionals".
The RCGP, which has 44,000 members, issued a statement expressing its disappointment at not being invited. "It is our members who will have to implement the changes if the Bill goes through so it is very important that we are part of any discussions on the way forward," it added.
However, the RCGP went on to say that it is "not a political body, it is here to protect and promote the best possible standards of care, and will remain so whatever happens". It noted that the summit "could be one in a series of similar meetings to which we would hope to be invited to have the opportunity for constructive dialogue".
Despite pleas for a boycott from some of its members, the Royal College of Physicians did go to Downing Street. Its president, Sir Richard Thompson, said "we felt we could best represent the views of our members by attending the meeting and briefing the prime minister on the RCP’s concerns".__
He spoke to Mr Cameron, among other things, about the RCP's concerns that "competition could damage, and is already damaging, integrated care pathways, and that the government should commit to a high quality threshold for any qualified provider for clinical services". He also raised the college's view that "NHS beds must not be closed to open private beds, and so any private provision in NHS hospitals must be additive".
RCP 'neither for nor against' Bill
Sir Michael added that the RCP "has from the outset been neither for nor against the Bill [but] this should not be taken to mean that the RCP is sitting on the fence or is undecided". He went on to say that "from the start we have lobbied vigorously, with some success, on the issues where we feel change was necessary, and shall continue to work with all politicians and stakeholders to ensure the legislation is the best it can possibly be".
Mr Cameron shows little sign of bending, however, and was quoted as saying that "I am committed to the changes and committed to taking them through. We need to do everything we can to explain to people that this is about improving and enhancing our NHS, not in any way endangering it".
He went on to say "we had a constructive and helpful meeting and what's clear is that there are quite a few myths that we need to bust about this reform." A tough day for the government was particularly uncomfortable for under-pressure Mr Lansley who was heckled on his way into Number 10 and was confronted by a pensioner.