The British Medical Association has shifted its anti-commercialisation battle plan up a gear with a new drive to rally public support for its attempt to oust private companies from the National Health Service.

The Association has unveiled new plans for its Look after our NHS campaign, which has been running since June last year, under which doctors will target patients and members of the public to add further muscle to its attack on the use of private companies for health services provision.

Under the campaign revamp, doctors, practice managers and local negotiating chairs will, from this week, be sent new publicity materials, some of which are destined for public areas such as waiting rooms in surgeries to help inform the public of the consequences of NHS commercialisation and how they can get involved.

The new materials are also designed to clearly set out the BMA’s issues with a market in healthcare to doctors, such as its fear that the government’s ever-growing patient choice agenda could actually have a “negative impact” on the NHS, with some hospitals facing closure if patients decide to go elsewhere, thereby contracting the availability of local health services.

According to the Association: “Patients are unlikely to be aware of the potentially far-reaching impact of their “choices”. Few would willingly choose an option that might undermine future access for treatment (emergency or non-emergency) at a properly resourced local district hospital. Nor is there any option for patients to insist upon care and resources being kept in-house and local”.

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Health told PharmaTimes UK News that “choice is fundamental to the delivery of a truly patient-centred NHS, which is why the NHS Constitution offers patients an explicit right to choose”.

“Choice doesn't just benefit those patients who choose to go to a particular hospital. It gives hospitals a strong incentive to tailor services to the specific needs and preferences of all patients which, in turn, should lead to better outcomes and the reduction of health inequalities,” she added.

The move to involve the public in its campaign also comes under the wider aim of upping the pressure on all three political parties to “move away from market-based policies and adopt a more constructive and cooperative approach to the delivery of healthcare rather than one based on competition and fragmentation”, explained BMA council chairman Hamish Meldrum.

'Little evidence'
He claims that there is “little evidence” to show that the element of competition has, as supporters claim, boosted service quality or trimmed related costs. “Instead we’ve had a series of expensive reforms such as the private finance initiative and payment by results, together with hundreds of millions being spent on management consultants — all at a time when, more than ever, the NHS needs to ensure that we protect money for frontline services”, Meldrum argues.

In response, health minister Mike O’Brien stressed that the government is opposed to privatisation of the health service and remains “committed to an NHS funded by taxation, with equal access to care, free at the point of use, based on clinical need and not ability to pay”.

However, he added: “We want to ensure that patients receive the best quality care and tax payers the best value for money…Independent and third sector organisations were used successfully to get down waiting lists for operations and can make a contribution to this by helping to add capacity and increase patient choice”.