UK Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, yesterday unveiled a raft of changes for the country’s National Health Service designed to bring the institution up-to-date and in line with new thinking in regard to patient choice.

From the beginning of January, patients have been able to choose from four hospitals at which to receive treatment. But the latest White Paper on improving community health and care services goes even further, pushing the National Health Service out of hospitals and further into the heart of the community.

The proposed changes include:

  • a new scheme of ‘health MOTs,’ offering patients the chance to get regularly screened at GP surgeries for risk of serious illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease;
  • new care complexes that will house social services, diagnostics, minor surgery and primary care;
  • longer opening hours for GP surgeries; and
  • the potential for the private and voluntary sector to enter the NHS community.

However, the Chair of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health warned the Government today not to leave the public behind in its efforts to improve the NHS, saying that the White Paper omitted mentioning any details for reforming NHS accountability to the public. Sharon Grant, Chair of the Commission, said: "This is not a Cinderella issue. Huge changes are afoot in the NHS, the public service people value most highly. It is inconceivable that such a major shake-up in healthcare should be forging ahead without a robust system to ensure accountability to patients and communities.”

Such concerns were also highlighted by Peter Cardy, Chief Executive, Macmillan Cancer Relief, who said: "There are lots of good ideas in the White Paper but the big question everyone wants to know is how the Government is going to pay for them. The White Paper will only have succeeded if the patient is truly at the centre of the decision-making process.”

But Hewitt argued that the White Paper will trigger a major change in how health and social care will work together in the future. “Nearly 90% of patient contact occurs in the community and is trusted, but we still spend below the European average on primary care. Over the next ten years I want to see 5% of resources shifted from secondary to primary care, which will help to make primary and community services more responsive to people's needs.”