The Queen has outlined the new coalition government’s plans for introducing a Health Bill that will cement its vision for a National Health Service run by clinicians and free from political meddling.

Unveiling plans for the Health Bill in her speech to Lords and Members of the House of Commons earlier this week, Her Majesty said “the voice of patients and the role of doctors will be strengthened in the NHS to improve public health alongside actions to reduce health inequalities”.

Broadly speaking, the Bill, to be put before parliament within the next 18 months, is designed to support a patient-led NHS that is focused on outcomes as well as deliver on the government’s commitment of slashing unnecessary bureaucracy, which it sees a major drain on resources.

As previously announced, a flagship component of the Bill is the creation of an independent NHS Board that will take on responsibility for dishing out resources and providing commissioning guidance, as well as allow GPs to purchase services for their patients.

Also under the plans, the role of the Care Quality Commission will be ramped up and Monitor will be assigned new powers as an economic regulator “to oversee aspects of access and competition in the NHS”, as a means of improving service efficiency.

Furthermore, the Bill also takes forward the government’s intention to significantly trim the number of health quangos, in a bid to cut administration costs in the NHS by a third.

According to the government, the Bill will foster a new environment for the NHS, one in which patients and clinicians will have a much greater say in the direction of services and care and one in which resource waste is eliminated, under the ultimate goal of achieving outcomes “that are amongst the best in the world”, said Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

According to Anna Dixon, Director of Policy at think-tank The King’s Fund, the Bill and other announcements in the Queen’s Speech “confirm that the NHS is embarking on a period of significant change”.

“Strengthening the role of doctors and the voice of patients will create some difficult dilemmas,” she said, and added: “In setting up an independent NHS board, careful thought will need to be given to the relationship between its responsibilities and those of ministers, who will remain accountable to parliament for NHS expenditure”.

GPs’ ‘critical’ role
Dixon welcomed the government’s acknowledgement of the critical role played by family doctors within the NHS and that changes are essential to boosting the quality of general practice. “If, as expected, these changes include transferring budgets to GPs, it will be important to learn from the previous experiences of GP-led commissioning in the UK and other countries to ensure it delivers benefits for patients and efficiency savings across the health system while ensuring accountability for public expenditure,” she said.

Also commenting on the Speech, Dean Arnold, head of the health care practice at Deloitte, said: “Putting patients first is always a positive thing to do, so too is empowering clinicians”. But he also warned that this requires “some caution as clinicians are not specialists in cost management – a skill that will increasingly be important as we seek to maximise the benefit received out of every pound spent on health”.